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Volume XXX 

June 1992 

Research in 
American Popular Music 

edited by 

Kenneth J. Bindas 

Beknie l- 

MUSIC k||1 

Dave Dkeyek 


Volume XXX June 1992 

Research in American 
Popular Music 

Kenneth J. Bindas 

Cover from songsheet "Lonesome Land." 
Bernie Foyer and Dave Dreyer. New York: A.J. Stasny, 1920. 


by Kenneth J. Bindas (Volume Editor) 

Volume 30 of West Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences 
Francis P. Conner (Series Editor) 

Copyright © 1992 by: 
West Georgia College 
Carrollton, GA30118 

ISSN 0081-8682 

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form 
— except for brief quotation in a review or professional work — without 
permission from the publishers. 

Printed in the United States of America 


Kenneth J. Bindas, Editor 



Francis P. Conner vi 

Preface: On The Importance of Studying American Popular 

Kenneth J. Bindas 7 

Two Kinds of Woman in the Tin Pan Alley Song 
of the 1920s and 1930s 

Edward Pessen 11 

Americana As Revealed Through Old Tin Pan Alley Era 

Robert W. Groves 25 

Unchained Melody: Postmodernism and Twentieth-Century 

J. Allen Michie 43 

"I Know It's Only Rock 6c Roll . . .": Patriarchy, Culture, 
and Rock Music 

Marjorie R. Abel 61 

Meddling In Metal Music 

Dennis Phillips 77 

Cultural Politics/The Politics of Culture: Using Foucault 
and Habermas to Locate Prospects for Social Change 

J. Craig Hanks 95 

About the Contributors 114 

Digitized by the Internet Archive 

in 2011 with funding from 

LYRASIS Members and Sloan Foundation 


The purpose of the West Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences 
series is to provide a forum for discussion of ideas by outstanding scholars 
in all the social sicences. This purpose is fulfilled admirably in the present 
volume, Research in American Popular Music, in which Dr. Bindas has 
brought together perspectives from a number of different disciplines. 

The authors, in analyzing the role of music in American popular 
culture, speak to such concerns as racism, sexism, and violence, and 
remind us that present problems have their roots in practices of the past. 

By bringing together the different insights of anthropology, history, 
English, broadcasting, and philosophy, Dr. Bindas provides provocative 
and interesting views of popular music that are both scholarly and timely. 
This volume continues the tradition of West Georgia College Studies in the 
Social Sciences of encouraging thinking and writing that is on the "cutting 
edge" of the various social science disciplines. If, as he suggests in his 
preface, "popular music offers a unique view into the people's beliefs," 
then this work offers more than just a different view of popular music, it 
offers a unique perspective on American popular culture. 

The next volume in this series, edited by Dr. Jane McCandless, a 
sociologist, will focus on women's issues. 

Francis P. Conner, MSW 
Series Editor 


On The Importance of Studying 
American Popular Music 

Kenneth J. Bindas 

This volume offers a collection of original articles from several 
academic disciplines. The essays also represent an ongoing trend in 
scholarly research, namely the study of things popular. That scholars 
from all fields now study popular culture, as this volume testifies, is an 
indication of the fecundity of popular culture and also the worlds still 
open for inquiry. 

The six essays that follow are only examples of the many types of 
research scholars are doing in popular culture study. Although this 
edition focuses on American popular music, the same kinds of studies 
done here can and have been applied to other people-based cultures. 

When Professor Conner suggested that I edit this year's volume, I was 
in the midst of completing another editing project, an anthology of 
twenty- nine original essays for Greenwood Press entitled Americas 
Musical Pulse (1992). Although the project had all but burned me out, I 
was still enthused about the many essays I had read, edited, and re-edited. 
What kept me going through that project and this subsequent volume 
was the simple fact that I learned much from doing the work. As a 
historian, generally, most of my contact is with other historians studying 
culture or music. What America's Musical Pulse most showed me is the 
interdisciplinary nature of my chosen area of study. Scholars from Mass 
Communication, English, Speech, Sociology, Anthropology, Political 
Science, History, and even Nursing wrote for me on that project. I was 
convinced that this volume of the Studies in the Social Sciences should 
continue that trend. Therefore, as you will see, the articles derive from 
a wide array of disciplines, from history to philosophy, but are unified in 
their belief that the study of American popular music is important, if not 
essential, to our understanding of who we are and have been as a people. 

Popular music offers a unique view into the people's beliefs during 
particular time periods. Although one cannot rely on musical informa- 
tion alone, when combined with traditional scholarly inquiry, a clearer 
view of the mass people's attitudes, ideas, and fears can often be 
discerned. Trying to understand the mass-based society is complicated 
when one uses only standard scholarly investigation, because rarely are 
the people themselves represented. They are considered subjects, 
specimens, or quantifiable data, but not as people. The ideas of 
politicians and other people in positions of power become the documents 
on which we restructure the past. The majority of people leave no diary, 
letters, or autobiography behind, and as a result their voices remain 
hidden to future generations. This process is especially evident among 
the least empowered of the ethnic and racial groups in America. 
However, within these outsider communities music often takes a larger, 
indeed a central role, both in spiritual and secular terms. With industri- 
alization and urbanization, many of these musical legacies became items 
of consumption, both within and outside the community. As the 
twentieth-century unfolded, America's popular music became one of the 
things most identifiable with America. Think about the impact, world- 
wide, of Jazz, Swing, Country & Western, Blues, or Rock. These genres 
sell the diversity and energy of the country, and at the same time they 
outline the history of poverty, racism, and exploitation that is also part 
of our country's legacy. America's popular music are living documents 
for scholars and students in all disciplines, for they speak both to who we 
are and how we came to view ourselves within this system called the 
United States. 

The essays that follow each look at American popular music in a 
unique way, from an examination of the images of women in Tin Pan 
Alley in Edward Pessen's contribution, to high school and college-aged 
attitudes toward heavy metal music in Dennis Phillips' piece. All of the 
selections detail the variety and scholarly commitment many have to the 
study of popular music. To further suggest that this type of cross- 
fertilization is both good and plentiful, one should note that all six of 
these papers were delivered at the 1991 Popular Culture/ American 
Culture Conference in San Antonio, Texas. I attended many sessions at 
the conference and then tried to solicit the best of the papers concerning 
popular music and scholarly inquiry. I believe I have chosen wisely. The 
authors wish to thank those who attended their sessions at the Confer- 
ence and those others who helped in their presentation, like Professor 


David Horowitz who provided the musical accompaniment on piano for 
Edward Pessen. We also want to thank those who provided the critical 
comments that better prepared the papers for publication. I also wish to 
thank the PCA/ACA for its ability to bring together scholars from so 
many disciplines and have a good time to boot. The authors themselves 
deserve my thanks for their patience and speed in returning edited 
manuscripts. I also wish to thank the West Georgia College Learning 
Resource Committee for its financial support for my many projects, 
including the one that took me to the PCA/ACA in the first place. No 
department can operate long without the help of a superior secretary and 
her assistants, and I thank Elmira Eidson and her student helpers Felicia 
Frazier and Krista McCarley. Finally, I wish to thank Zachary and Colin 
for letting me work on this on nights I should have been playing with 
them, and Virginia for telling me not to feel so guilty about it. 


Two Kinds of Woman In The 

Tin Pan Alley Song of the 

1920s and 1930s 

Edward Pessen 

Of the four to five hundred popular songs written between the two 
world wars that are called standards because of their enduring appeal 
both to mass audiences and to jazz musicians, almost nine out often were 
about love — almost invariably romantic heterosexual love. : While Tin 
Pan Alley's best lyricists often invoked the term gay to describe a lover's 
mood, they used the word in its older sense, to connote merriment or 
bright cheerfulness. In many of the songs, the love object could be either 
man or woman. But usually she was clearly a woman. 2 For all the 
diversity in popular songwriters' approaches to love, many of the songs 
throw little or no light on what or how the lover or would-be lover feels 
about women, preoccupied as the songs are with his depth of felling, his 
joy or despair, his protestations of the enduring if not eternal nature of 
his love. But in some of the songs these feelings are revealed, even if 
implicitly, and it is these songs, supplemented by a few songs that while 
not about love do nevertheless reveal their lyricists' views of women, that 
are what sociologists would call my group of orientation in the remarks 
that follow. 

No two people will interpret song lyrics or any other evidence 
similarly. A recent article on the popular songs of the 1930s discerns in 
them two kinds of women — "goddesses and golddiggers." 3 Perhaps 
because I am interested in the 1920s and the World War II years as well 
as the 'depression decade,' my own perceptions are slightly different. I 
combine these brief periods, because in the world of Tin Pan Alley love 
songs they are all of a piece. 4 Goddesses and golddiggers there indeed 
were. But these rubrics do not fully cover the varieties of woman 
rhapsodized in popular song. It is possible to discern more than a dozen 
types of woman in the best songs, each differing even if only slightly from 
all the others. Exigencies of space suggest the wisdom of condensing Tin 
Pan Alley's women into two contrasting types. 

In the phrase of contemporary show business, one might do quite a 
number on Tin Pan Alley's women, dealing with them as icons and 
cultural symbols, invoking Freud, Jung, DeSade, Beauvoir, the better 
and more impressively to flesh out the discussion. Since my modest 
purpose is to entertain as well as edify, I have chosen to forego so weighty 
an approach — an approach that could all too easily lapse into preten- 
tiousness. Since I love as well as admire the songs of Tin Pan Alleys 
golden age, I regard them as lovely and important things in themselves 
that are most fairly and sensibly treated when they are permitted to speak 


or sing for themselves, rather than exploited as point of departure for 
some commentator's arcane apercus and analyses. 

Singing the songs conforms far more closely to their composers' 
intentions than does merely reading the lyrics. It is also fairer to the 
quality of the lyrics. Words that seem mindless when spoken, take on a 
new meaning when sung. Witness the transformation of the third 8-bar 
segment of Irving Caesar's and Vincent Youmans' "Tea for Two," when 
it is sung: 

Day will break and you will wake 

and start to bake a sugarcake 
For me to take for all the boys to see 

Even when they read well on paper, the true meaning of song lyrics can 
only be understood when they are put to music. For the melody, whether 
mournful or gay, shapes the mood of the song. The reader who does not 
know the melodies of the songs that follow is well advised to learn them. 
Doing so will enhance his or her emotional state as well as understanding, 
since these are charming songs. 

The most characteristic by far of Tin Pan Alley's women is what used 
to be called an old-fashioned girl. (The lyricists rarely referred to her as 
a woman, whatever her age.) Pleasing to men in every respect, she is 
above all lovely to look at, as Dorothy Fields and Jimmy McHugh 
describe her in the well known melody by Jerome Kern. Fields, one of 
the best and the brightest of the lyricists, is here putting herself in the 
shoes of a man and viewing woman as she evidently thought most men 

Lovely to look at 

Delightful to know 
And heaven to kiss 

A combination like this 
Is quite my most impossible dream come true, 

Imagine finding a dream like you. 
Lovely to look at 

It's thrilling to hold you 
Terribly Tight. 

We're together, the moon is new 


And oh it's lovely to look at you, 
Tonight. 5 

In addition to her beauty, this ideal woman is tender and acquiescent, 
so much so, that in the song by Mack Gordon and Harry Revel, the man 
who loves her hopes that she will never change. 

Stay as sweet as you are, 

don't let a thing ever change you. 
Stay as sweet as you are, 

don't let a thing rearrange you. 
Don't ever lose all the charms you possess, 

your tenderness, darling the way you say, "yes". 
Stay as sweet as you are 

as sweet as you are, you're divine, dear. 
Stay as sweet as you are 

as sweet as you are, tell me that you're mine, dear. 
Young and gay, old and gray, 

Near to me or afar, 
Night and day I pray 

That you'll always stay 
As sweet as you are. 6 

The romantic lover who adores the paragon in the next song puts on 
a show of realism by conceding that she is less than perfect. But as Al 
Dubin's lyric for this Harry Warren melody shows, her slight imperfec- 
tions make her all the more loveable. 

You may not be an angel, 'cause angel are so few, 

But until the day that one comes along 
I'll string along with you. 
I'm looking for an angel 

to sing my love song to you. 
But until the day that one comes along, 
I'll sing my song for you. 
For every little fault that you have, 

Say, I've got three or four. 
The human little faults you do have 


Just make me love you more. 
You may not be an angel, 

But still I'm sure you'll do. 
So, until the day that one comes along, 

I'll string along with you. 7 

In the song by Harry Woods, Jimmy Campbell, and Reg Connelly 
that some might find ironic for its blatant male chauvinism, and other 
might find dismaying for the same reason, the singer's advice on how to 
jolly a good woman is, one suspects, revelatory of the attitude of many 
men. Looked at one way, the lyrics offer tactical advice to men on how, 
by a few politic phrases and acts, to hold on to a good thing — a devoted 
and long-suffering woman who has little and puts up with much. 

She may be weary, women do get weary 

Wearing the same shabby dress. 
And when she's weary, 

Try a little tenderness. 
You know she's waiting 

Just anticipating things she may never possess. 
While she's without them 

Try a little tenderness. 
It's not just sentimental 

She has her grief and care. 
And a word that's soft and gentle 

Makes it easier to bear. 
You won't regret it, women don't forget it, 

Love is their whole happiness. 
It's all so easy, try a little tenderness. 8 

A cheerful if ungrammatical treatment of a rightminded woman who, 
caring only for her man, is happily inexpensive to please and maintain, 
is found in Gus Kahn's lyrics to Walter Donaldson's tune. 

My baby don't care for shows, 

My baby don't care for clothes 
My baby just cares for me. 
My baby don't care for furs and laces, 


My baby don't care for high tone places. 
My baby don't care for rings 

Or other expensive things. 
She's sensible as can be. 

My baby don't care who knows it, 
My baby just cares for me . 9 

In some songs, the lyrics to be sung by a woman register values that the 
male composer clearly thinks are exemplary. In He's My Guy (1942) by 
Don Raye and Gene DePaul, the woman lives for one thing and will 
abjectly but happily acquiesce in her man's mistreatment. 

He's my guy, I don't care what he does, 

'Cause he's my guy, and I guess he always was, 
He's careless about me, I don't think he tries 

But once in a while, he'll hug me and smile 
And I can see me in his eyes. 
Oh, he's my guy, and I know he'll always be. 

And I will try to keep him loving me. 
However he wants me, I'm his until I die 

For nobody knows better than I 
That he's my guy. 

The lyrics by Sidney Mitchell for Louis Alter's song are sung by a 
woman who has suffered for evidently having been somewhat spoiled 
and greedy. But her saving grace is that she has come to her senses, now 
realizing that she had it coming to her. 

You turned the tables on me 

And now I'm crying for you. 
You turned the tables on me 

I can't believe that it's true. 
I used to think when you brought 

those little presents you bought. 
Why hadn't you brought me more? 

But now when you come, 
I'd welcome anything from 

the five and ten cent store. 


You used to call me the top. 

You placed me high on a throne. 
You let me fall with a drop 

And now I'm out on my own. 
But after thinking it over and over, 

I got what was coming to me. 
Just like the sting of a bee, 

You turned the tables on me. 10 

The most attractive, the most enthusiastic song about the ideal 
woman was written by Lorenz (Larry) Hart for Richard Rodgers' 
melody. Perhaps because Hart himself was so intellectually sophisti- 
cated and ahead of his time in his appreciation of a woman who is 
something much more than a docile piece of fluff, his paean to the 'girl 
friend' can be sung unembarrassedly in the 1990s as when he first sang 
it in the 1920s. 

Isn't she cute? Isn't she sweet? 

She's gentle and mentally only complete. 
She's knockout, she's regal, 

Her beauty's illegal, she's the girl friend. 
Take her to dance, take her to tea. 

It's stunning, how cunning this lady can be. 
A look at this vision, will cause a collision, 

She's the girl friend. 
She is smart, she's refined, 

how can she be real? 
She has heart, she has mind, 

hell, the girl's ideal. 
Isn't she cute? Isn't she sweet? 

An eyeful you'd die full of pleasure to meet, 
In my funny fashion, I'm cursed with a passion 
for the girl friend. n 

The versatile and knowing Hart also rang changes on the woman that 
Tin Pan Alley less often wrote about, doubtless because the lyricists 
found her more disconcerting than her submissive sister. Whether a 
golddigger or not, this was an independent human being, a woman who 


lived not for her man alone, — if, that is, she thought about men at all 
— who seems to find one man like another. 

In "Bewitched" (1941), Hart's woman is ga-ga about a man, but she 
has no illusions about him; she is selfishly and sensually using, if not 
exploiting, him to the hilt, solely for her own gratification. No wonder 
some early critics found Pal Joey's leading lady no less disturbing than its 
leading man when the show first came out a half-century ago. 

She may not be the new woman, but the woman who sings the 
following song by Hart and Rodgers is an independent, irreverent, free 
spirit who wouldn't be caught dead living a cliche. 

I get too hungry for dinner at eight 

I like the theatre but never come late. 
I never bother with people I hate, 

That's why the lady is a tramp. 
I don't like crap games with barons and earls 

Won't go to Harlem in ermine and pearls 
Won't dish the dirt with the rest of the girls, 

That's why the lady is a tramp. 
I like the free fresh wind in my hair, 

life without care, I'm broke, it's oke. 
Hate California, it's cold and it's damp, 

That's why the lady is a tramp. u 

In another song that perhaps throws more light on the much remarked 
hangups of Hart than on Tin Pan Alley values, the awesome beauty of 
the woman he loves is troubling to the singer. Evidently beauty that is 
excessive detracts from rather than enhances the feminine ideal — at 
least to an insecure male. 

You are too beautiful my dear to be true, 

And I'm such a fool for beauty. 
Fooled by the feeling that because I had found you, 

I could have bound you, too. 
You are too beautiful for one man alone, 

for one lucky fool to be with. 
When there are other men with eyes of their own 

to see with. 


Love does not stand sharing, 

not if one cares. 
Have you been comparing 

my every kiss with theirs? 
If, on the other hand, I'm faithful to you, 

It's not from a sense of duty. 
You are too beautiful and I'm such a fool 

for beauty . 13 

I suppose Cole Porter's woman whose heart belongs to daddy is a 
golddigger of sorts. Certainly she's a flirt — and she may be more than 
a flirt. For when she sings of not following through when she makes a 
play for her caddy, she might be referring to her incomplete golf stroke, 
not going 'all the way', which is how her comment is usually interpreted, 
or she might possibly mean that she indeed 'does it' (as in Cole's "Let's 
Do It") but without displaying the signs of affection that she reserves for 
the man who has her heart. For that matter, 'daddy' may not signify sugar 
daddy, but only a term of endearment for her chief lover. And what she 
says "belongs to daddy" may be her bodily charms, in return for expensive 
favors. Then again, it may indeed be her heart or the organ of affection. 
You decide. 

While tearing off a game of golf, 

I may make a play for the caddy. 
But when I do, I don't follow through, 

'cause my heart belongs to daddy. 
If I invite a boy some night 

to dine on my fine fin 'n haddle, 
I just adore his asking for more 

but my heart belongs to daddy. 
Yes my heart belongs to daddy 

So I simply couldn't be bad 
Yes my heart belongs to daddy, 

da da da, da da da, da da da 
So I want to warn you, laddie 

Though I think you're perfectly swell 
That my heart belongs to daddy 

'cause my daddy he treats it so well . 14 


In "Daddy" (1941) by Bob Troup, an evidently gorgeous young 
golddigger who ticks off the price-y things she wants 'daddy' to buy her, 
promises that she will do things that amaze him, in return. 

Hey, daddy! I want a diamond ring, bracelets, every thing, 

Daddy, you oughta get the best for me. 
Hey daddy, gee, won't I look swell in sables, gowns with Paris 


Daddy, you ought get the best for me. 
Here's an amazin' revelation, 

with a bit of stimulation, 
I'd be a great sensation, I'd be your inspiration. 

Daddy, I want a brand new car, champagne, caviar, 
Daddy, daddy, you oughta get the best for me. 

Not quite the Tin Pan Alley ideal is the woman who sings the whore's 
lament composed by Cole Porter. 

Love for sale, appetizing young love for sale. 

Love that's fresh and still unspoiled, 
Love that's only slightly soiled, 

Love for sale. 
Who will try, who would like to sample my supply? 

Who would like to pay the price 
For a trip to paradise? 

Love for sale. 
Let the poets pipe of love in their childish way, 

I know every type of love better far than they. 
If you want the thrill of love, I've been through the mill of love, 

Old love, new love, every love but true love. 
Love for sale, appetizing young love for sale. 

Who would like to try my wares? Follow me right up the 

Love for sale. 15 

Even more disquieting than the woman who dispenses her 'wares' too 
freely is she who feels nothing. The elusive and jaded woman who in 


"You're Blase" (1931) by Bruce Sievier and M. Ord Hamilton looks for, 
but can't find excitement or purpose, is frighteningly subversive. 

You're deep, just like a chasm, 

You've no enthusiasm. 
You're tired and uninspired, 

You're blase. 
Your life is one of leisure 

in which you search for pleasure 
You're bored when you're adored, 

You're blase. 
While reaching for the moon and all the stars up in the sky, 

You let all the simple things of life just pass you by. 
You sleep, the sun is shining, 

You wake, it's time for dining. 
There's nothing new for you to do, 

You're blase. 

Let me close with "Sleepy Time Gal" of 1925, which throws interest- 
ing light on Tin Pan Alley's sensibilities. In the lyrics written by Joseph 
Allen and Raymond Egan for the melody by Richard Whiting and Ange 
Lorenzo, the boy is slighdy critical of the girl he evidently dances and 
fools with until the wee hours — critical because she seems to have too 
much fun in accompanying him! But he has faith that the better angel 
in her nature will yet prevail and she will become what she should be after 
he pops the question and buys her Tin Pan Alley's magic cure for all 
women's problems - - a cottage. 

Sleepy time gal, you're turning night into day. 

Sleepy time gal, you've danced the evening away. 
Before each silvery star fades out of sight, 

Please give me one little kiss, 
Then let us whisper good night, It's gettin' late 

and dear, your pillow's waitin' 
Sleepy Time Gal, when all your dancin' is through, 

Sleepy Time Gal, I'll find a cottage for you. 
You'll learn to cook and to sew 

What's more, you'll love it, I know, 


When you're a stay-at-home, play-at-home 
8 o'clock sleepy time gal. 

The attitudes toward women I have chronicled should not be con- 
strued as necessarily those of the average American male. These were the 
sentiments expressed by inordinately literate and sophisticated men and 
one woman, albeit sentiments that reflected the values of the time and 
that represented their bright authors'perceptions of the feelings of most 
young Americans. There is no reason to doubt that the male chauvinism 
permeating the lyrics of the popular songs of a half century ago and back 
were representative of American thought and feeling of the era. For even 
the lyrics about independent women would hardly be regarded as paeans 
to womanhood by feminists, whether male or female. The fact, however, 
that consciousness had not been raised very high in the popular song of 
a half-century ago and back, while reminding us that the values of male 
lyricists were not much different from those of the mass audience they 
serenaded, does not detract from the importance of their poems as clue 
to the popular mind and, above all, as charming and enduring American 
haiku that have enriched our musical culture. 


1 Edward Pessen, "Tin Pan Alley's Many Ways of Love, 1920-1945," Popular Music 
and Society, XIV (December 1990), 37-45. 

2 For a summary of popular songs and their composers, 1892-1970, see ASCAP's Hit 
Tunes (New York, 1970). 

3 Timothy E. Scheurer, "Goddesses and Golddiggers: Images of Women in Popular 
Music of the 1930s," Journal of Popular Culture, 24 (Summer 1990), 23-38. 

4 See Edward Pessen, "The Great Songwriters of Tin Pan Alley's Golden Age: A 
Social, Occupational, and Aesthetic Inquiry," American Music, 3 (Summer 1985), 180- 

5 "Lovely to Look At," 1935. 

6 "Stay As Sweet As You Are," 1934. 

7 "You May Not Be an Angel, But 111 String Along With You," 1934. 

8 "Try a Little Tenderness," 1932. 

9 "My Baby Just Cares for Me," 1930. 


10 "You Turned the Tables on Me," 1936. 

11 "The Girl Friend," 1926. 

12 "The Lady Is a Tramp," 1937. 

13 "You Are Too Beautiful," 1932. 

14 "My Heart belongs to Daddy," 1938. 

15 "Love For Sale," 1930. 


Americana As Revealed 

Through Old Tin Pan Alley 

Era Songs 

Robert W. Groves 

Popular American sheet music produced during the heyday of the Tin 
Pan Alley era (1895 - 1930) represents an untapped source of informa- 
tion about America's social history during the first quarter of the 20th 
century. For most people these old song sheets are merely "collectible" 
remnants of yesterday's popular diversions and home entertainment 
activities. However, the texts and covers when studied in large quanities, 
become historical artifacts revealing a broad spectrum of attitudes and 
reactions to every major social trend and historical event of the period. 
These old songs detail the human side of American history — how people 
felt about and reacted to social and historical change. The purpose of this 
article is to demonstrate through discussions of selective topics and titles 
the historical value of song sheets and the potential they have as original 
source material for teaching and research. 1 

The appearance of song sheets related to war and soldiers, particularly 
during times of national conflict, was surpassed only by those songs 
concerning male-female relationships. Of particular interest are songs 
which concern the Civil War and World War I. Though the Civil War 
had ended 35 years earlier by the turn of the century, many of the 
animosities and emotional wounds felt by many Americans were still 
being expressed in song. The tension can be felt in the 1902 song "My 
Mother Was a Northern Girl" by J. Fred Helf, in which the father of a 
Southern girl reacts to the marriage proposal to his daughter by a 
Northern boy: 

Depart! Your dad and I were foes in the days of yore. I cannot 
forget those bitter years of strife, although I would. A 
Northern lad my lass shall never wed. 

The sense of loss from the death of loved ones could still be felt 
through songs such as "Break the News To Mother" by Charles K. Harris 
(1987). The need for eventual reconciliation was also expressed through 
songs such as "I Love the Whole United States" by Roger Lewis and 

1 The following information is derived from the careful viewing of about 30,000 pieces 
of sheet music, most of which have been gathered by the author for his own personal library, 
and which have been categorized into over 200 topical groupings. References to specific 
songs are noted in the text by title, author, and date. An alphabetical listing is provided 
at the conclusion. 


Ernie Erdman (1913), in which two old opposing veterans continue to 
argue loyalties. A young southern-born American soldier overhearing 
the argument admonishes the two of them by saying, 

Gentlemen, the war is through, so love the flag no matter 
where it flies. 

A song titled "Rejected" with words by Ella F. Haslip and published 
in Chicago in 1909 tells a side of the war's aftermath that one seldom 
hears. The wife of a soldier killed in the war (probably the author's 
husband) decries the difficulties experienced by possibly many elderly 

The cruel shell a victim found. 

'Twas buried in his breast. 

Beneath the sunny Southern skies he lies fore'er at rest. 

His widow asks a pension now for she is old and gray. 

The nation's answer coldly comes, "No claim have you," they 


This boy in blue was brave and true, by country's call selected. 

Why should the claim his blood has won be now with scorn 


But tho' his body lies forlorn, his loved one lives neglected. 

This soldier boy at the golden gate will never be rejected. 

The greatest number of war songs which presented the widest 
spectrum of American attitudes and experiences related to war were 
composed during the years ofWorld War I. Prior to America's entry into 
the war in 1917, anti-war and isolationist songs were not as plentiful as 
those expressing sympathy and preparedness, but they contained equally 
strong and emotional messages. Many of them were written by Tin Pan 
Alley's most visible composers. "Don't Take My Darling Boy Away" by 
Will Dillon and Albert von Tilzer (1915), "If They Want to Fight, All 
Right — But 'Neutral' Is my Middle Name" by Jack Frost and James 
White (1915), and "I Didn't Raise My Boy To Be a Soldier" by Alfred 
Bryan and Al Piantadosi (1915) are just a few examples of the isolation- 
ism evident at the time. In 1915 even the venerable Irving Berlin 


composed "Stay Down Here Where You Belong," in which the devil 
tries to convince his son to stay in the safe haven of hell rather than 
venture up to the insanity of the surface world: 

Stay down here where you belong. 

The folks who live above you don't know right from wrong. 

To please their kings they've all gone out to war, 

and not one of them knows what he's fighting for. 

Way up above they say that I'm a devil, and I'm bad. 

They're breaking the hearts of mothers, 

making butchers out of brothers. 

You'll find more hell up there than there is down below. 

The song "There's No Need For Anyone To Borrow Trouble, For 
There's Plenty Here for All" by Fred C. Crocker (1915), published in St. 
Louis, argues that isolationism would not be as financially damaging to 
the United States as war. 

Tin Pan Alley composers often felt compelled to answer songs with 
new ones expressing opposing views similar to the manner of newspaper 
editorials. The song that appears most often stating an opposing 
viewpoint to isolationism is "I'd Be Proud to Be the Mother Of a Soldier" 
by Charles Bahya (1915). Shortly thereafter, "Girls of America, We All 
Depend On You" By Edgar Leslie, Bert Kalmar, and Harry Ruby (1917), 
calls on the women of America to "shun everyone who won't shoulder a 

After America entered the war in 1917, anti-war songs all but ceased 
to appear, and many Tin Pan Alley composers who had written isolation- 
ist songs produced new ones that were fully behind the war effort. The 
typical war song from 1917-18 expressed unity, the fighting spirit, life in 
the trenches, duty, the supreme sacrifice, and the inevitability of victory. 

In rediscovering the songs of World War I, the greatest interest often 
comes from finding songs that deal with the less obvious issues related 
to the war. Some of these titles include "Mr. Hoover, Don't Give Us A 
Loveless Day" by Debbie Peterson and Edward W. Penny (1918) — 
relating to the woes of rationing; "I'd Feel At Home If They'd Let Me 
Join The Army" by Jack Mahoney and Albert Gumble (1917) — dealing 
with the choice of getting married to avoid the draft; "Down in the U- 
17: A Musical Torpedo" by Roger Lewis and Ernie Erdman (1915); 


"There'll Be A Hot Time For The Old Men While the Young Men Are 
Away" by Grant Clarke and George W. Meyer (1918); "The Makin's of 
the U.S.A.: A Plea In Song For Tobacco For The Boys Over There" by 
Vincent Bryan and Harry von Tilzer (1918); "The Man Behind The 
Hammer and the Plow" by Harry von Tilzer (1917) — calling on men 
with hammers or plows to do their best for the war effort; "If They Ever 
Put a Tax On Love" by Sam Erlich and Nat Osborne (1918) — bemoan- 
ing taxation in a manner similar to "Mr. Hoover. . ."; and "Camouflage" 
by L. Wolfe Gilbert and Anatol Friedland (1917) — a humorous treat- 
ment of what must have been a relatively new approach to warfare. 

Women in the Tin Pan Alley songs, were generally portrayed as proud 
mothers, faithful mates waiting for their loved ones to return, or angels 
of mercy (nurses or Salvation Army volunteers). The title that perhaps 
best exemplifies this is "The Little Good For Nothing Is Good For 
Something After All" by Lou Klein and Harry von Tilzer (1918) — about 
a woman who becomes a Red Cross nurse. 

On occasion one finds a song that deals with the negative aspects of 
a former soldier's life following the war. A striking example is "Bonus 
Blues" by Frankie J. Shultz (1922): 

Congress' got the blues, 

Wall Street's got'em too. 

Everybody wants to cry. 

There seems to be confusion about restitution of our dues 

Another view of the same problem is stated in "Soldier Bonus Blues" 
by Jack Randolph, R. R. Lence, and John F. Carroll (1922): 

We fought to save our country and keep Old Glory free. We 

saved the allies by fighting over sea. 

We love the good old U.S.A. and Uncle Sam you bet. 

They promised us a bonus but we haven't got it yet. 

If they start another war we think it would be right 

for us to get our bonus before we start to fight. 

The sad plight of native American veterans and their right to full 
citizenship is stated in "One Hundred Per Cent American" by Belle Ka 
Dell and Leo Friedman (1919): 


No greater American patriot lives in our land today than these 
men who plead for their citizenship. 
One hundred percent are they. 

They have fought in each war for this country since the time 
when Columbus came here. His reception committee re- 
member, was composed of these red men, dear . . . 

In all likelihood no American institution has contributed more to the 
fostering and dissemination of racial and ethnic stereotypes than the 
popular song industry. Beginning with the earliest minstrel songs in the 
1840's, stereotypical views of ethnic and racial minorities appear to have 
reached their peak from about 1895 through the mid-teens. Because of 
the enormous amount of this material produced by Tin Pan Alley 
publishers, it must be assumed that the buying public was quite comfort- 
able with such categorizations of people and enjoyed escaping for a brief 
time into a humorous world of imaginary behavior by another segment 
of society. Despite the negative lasting effects of such songs, publishers 
and noted song composers must have produced these songs for purely 
lighthearted entertainment value rather than for any malicious intent. 
For reasons that sociological researchers may determine in the future, 
these types of songs appeared with considerably less frequency following 
the first World War. 

After viewing the titles, texts, and cover illustrations of old sheet 
music, one can truly begin to comprehend in graphic detail the wide- 
spread notions of racism and ethnic prejudice in early 20th centurv 
American society. By today's standards many of these song sheets 
contained disturbing and offensive terminology and tasteless cover 
graphics, all of which must have been commonplace in early 20th- 
century American culture. Terms such as coon, nigger, picaninny, chink, 
wop, and dago were used freely. Humorous stereotyping must have been 
particularly timely for Americans during the period in which so manv 
immigrants were entering the country and attempting to reconcile their 
old ways of life with those of their new homeland. 

Despite their humorous intentions, the most tragic legacies of these 
song sheets were the establishment of class distinctions and what became 
assumed life styles, behavioral patterns, and dialectic language patterns 
within racial and ethnic minorities. Particularly common were charac- 


terizations of African- Americans as lazy and uneducated with tenden- 
cies toward violence, gambling, unscrupulous love lives, and the stealing 
of chickens and watermelons. Examples are "What Are You Goin' To 
Do When the Rent Comes Around (Rufus Rastus Johnson Brown)" by 
Andrew B. Sterling and Harry von Tilzer (1905) and "Who Dat Say 
Chicken In Dis Crowd" by Paul Laurence Dunbar and Will Marion 

Jews were generally portrayed as financially shifty as in, "That's 
Yiddisha Love" by Joe Watson and James Brockman (1910), and Italians 
were usually depicted as uneducated laborers with occasional ties to 
mafia-like activity such as in "My Brudda Sylvest" by Jesse Lasky and 
Fred Fisher (1908). "Blinky, Winky, Chinky China Town" (1915), by 
William Jerome and Jean Schwartz, is typical of hundreds of "Chinese" 
songs that appeared in the teens. Also commonly found are songs from 
the same period that characterized Japanese, Irish, Native Americans, 
and Germans. 

Once the ethnic distinctions were established in the song sheet 
industry, the supposed absurdity of a stereotypical individual breaking 
out of his or her own defined position in American society was portrayed 
in songs such as "A Coon of Pedigree" by William Friedlander and John 
Larkins (1907), "I Got a White Man Running My Automobile" by 
Harry Zaun and Halsey K. Mohr (1906), and "Yonkel, the Cow-Boy 
Jew" by Will J. Harris and Harry I. Robinson (1907). The imaginary 
consequences experienced by individuals in mixed marriage situations 
attempting to reconcile their "inborn" differences can be seen in song 
sheets such as "The Wedding of the Chinee and the Coon" by Billy 
Johnson and Bob Cole (1897) and "It's Tough When Izzy Rosenstein 
Loves Genevieve Malone" by Gus Kahn and Grace Le Boy (1910). 

Only a handful of talented black composers and lyricists were able to 
get published during the days of Tin Pan Alley. While it was a common 
practice to include photographs of song composers on the covers of the 
song sheets, it was extremely rare for the few published black composers 
to be identified by photograph. It can be assumed that few Americans 
were even aware that big-selling song sheets such as "Darktown Strutter's 
Ball" (1917) and "Some of These Days" (1910), were composed by a 
black composer named Shelton Brooks. In all probability the publishers 
hid the racial identity of black composers because white Americans 
would tend to not buy songs composed by blacks. In the relatively few 


instances in which blacks were pictured on the covers, they were often 
dressed in the blackface make-up of a minstrel performer. The two black 
minstrels pictured most often on turn-of-the-century covers were the 
vaudeville team of Williams and Walker (Bert Williams and George 
Walker), who were billed as the two "real coons" as on the cover of "My 
Little Zulu Babe" by W. S. Estrem and James T. Brymn (1900). 

The difficulties experienced by blacks attempting to enter the enter- 
tainment business simply as talented musicians are well-documented, 
but old sheet music actually brings the realities of the early 1900's into the 
1990's. The factthatthe majority ofthe songs composed by blacks before 
1905 were "coon" songs with the standard stereotypes and black-face 
jargon attests to the notion that blacks had to imitate white performers 
and composers, who were in turn presenting highly inaccurate imitations 
of blacks. While far more "coon" songs were composed by whites than 
by blacks, the titles cited in this discussion that were composed by black 
composers are "Who Dat Say Chicken ..." "A Coon of Pedigree," "The 
Wedding ofthe Chinee and the Coon," and "My Little Zulu Babe." 

For those seeking photographs of early 20th-century black musicians 
without make-up, the best sources are the song publications by the four 
black-owned publishing houses in New York. These companies, which 
provided commercial outlets for black composers, were the short-lived 
Gotham-Attucks Company formed soon after the turn of the century, 
the Pace and Handy Company formed in the mid-teens, and two 
companies whose songs began appearing with some regularity around 
1920, Perry Bradford Publishing and Clarence Williams Publishing. By 
comparing the number of song sheets still in existence from each 
company, one may assume that Pace and Handy and Clarence Williams 
were the only two that experienced any significant level of financial 

The negative side of being black in America was seldom addressed in 
popular song sheets. Two exceptions are "Little Black Me" by Thurland 
Chattaway( 1898), the story of a dying little black girl who wonders if she 
can go to heaven when all the angels are always pictured as white, and 
"Stay in Your Own Back Yard" by Karn Kennett and Lyn Udall (1899), 
in which a black mother tells her child: 

Now honey, yo' stay in yo' own back yard. 
Doan min' what dem white chiles do. 


What show yo' suppose day's a gwine to gib a black little coon 

like yo'? 

Do stay on dis side of de high boahd fence, an honey, doan cry 

so hard. 

Go out an' a-play, jes' as much as you' please, 

but stay in yo' own back yard. 

A particularly cutting commentary by Gussie Davis, a black com- 
poser, is titled "There'd Never Been No Trouble If They'd Kidnapped a 
Coon" (1899). Comically illustrated on the cover as "a bit of black 
wisdom," the song asserts that a white child would be kidnapped before 
a black one would. The "wisdom" continues by stating that if a black 
child is kidnapped, there would be no trouble for the kidnapper since no 
one would care. 

If one searches with the necessary persistence, songs can be found that 
comment on all the now-forgotten fads and popular trends, all the new 
inventions and technological advancements affecting American life, 
every current political or social issue, and every major historic event of the 
period. Examples of the diverse topics on which song sheets were based 
include the San Francisco earthquake, the sinkings of the Lusitania and 
the Titanic, the war with Mexico, Lindberg's flight across the Atlantic, 
and the Scopes trial in 1926. The portrayal of women in American 
culture made a rapid transition from the idealized Victorian role in the 
1890's to being referred to as mamas, patooties, and old ladies following 
the male-threatening success of the suffrage movement. The issue of 
prohibition inspired hundreds of song sheets that bemoaned life and 
romance without liquor. Popular examples include "How Are You 
Going to Wet Your Whistle When the Whole Darn World Goes Dry?" 
by Francis Byrne, Frank Mclntyre, and Percy Wenrich (1919), and "I'll 
See You in Cuba" by Irving Berlin (1920). 

Forgotten popular trends in American life often can be rediscovered 
through song sheets. For example, between about 1903 and 1908 a 
number of songs appeared that described the seductive nature inherent 
in females eyes, which were often described as "goo-goo" eyes as in "Look 
Into Your Baby's Eyes and Say Goo-Goo" by R. C. McPherson and 
James T. Brymn (1903). The term "pal," referring to everything from 
wives and mothers to favorite pets, frequently appeared in song titles and 
texts between about 1918 and 1925. The symbolic use of the "rose" in 


song texts was most prevalent between about 1909 and 1913. An exotic 
fascination with Hawaii was most evident between 1912 and 1918. 
There was a rash of monkey and jungle songs during the early teens and 
was followed by comic referrals to Darwinian theory in 1916-17. A 
positive thinking craze swept the United States during the 1920's called 
"Coueism" after the writings of Dr. Emile Coue, a French psychologist 
who claimed that positive thinking can make each day better and better. 
Hundreds of songs can be found from between 1923 and 1926 extolling 
the Coue philosophy suggesting that one could think, smile, hum, or 
whistle troubles into oblivion. The song, "Day By Day In Every Way I'm 
Getting Better and Better" by William Jerome and Jean Schwartz 
(1923), was "respectively" dedicated to him. 

After the welcome demise of ethnic and racial songs, escapist song 
sheets reveal a new fascination with the exotic worlds of the south sea 
islands, southeast Asia, and especially the countries of the middle east. 
Most of these songs featured idealized women of other cultures, who 
undoubtedly represented imaginary alternatives to the threatening vision 
of fast and independent American women of the time. 

Occasionally one comes across a song sheet that pertains directly to a 
current political election. The publishing of campaign songs and 
marches by Tin Pan Alley publishers implies that candidate or party 
platform endorsements by publishing companies existed in the same 
spirit as those by editors of large newspapers. The author's private 
collection contains politically oriented publications for each major 
campaign year from 1900 through the 1920's. Two examples are a 
Democratic presidential campaign song for John Davis titled "March To 
the White House" by Charles K. Harris (1924) and "The Bullmoosers 
(A Party War Song)" by Fritz Duquesne (1912). This practice seems to 
have stopped the depression years, during which such songs were 
published by the campaign organizations themselves or by supportive 

Many other political or social issues that concerned the American 
public were addressed through published song sheets. Examples of these 
include the suffrage movement in "What's the Matter With Uncle Sam" 
by Mrs. Charles H. Toby (1913), the lack of jobs in "There Ain't No Use 
in Workin' When There Ain't No Work" by John Fiske and W. A. 
Bosenbury (1908), the homeless condition of hoboes in "You'll Never Be 
Missed 100 Years From Now" by Billy Rose, Mort Dixon, and Redmond 


Farrar (1927), the Tammany Hall scandal in "Tammany" by Vincent 
Bryan and Gus Edwards (1905), socialism in "The Star of Socialism Is 
Brightly Shining" by Arthur A. Chief (1910) and "Get Up and Get Out" 
by Gordon Johnstone and Geoffrey O'Hara (1920), support for Ameri- 
can commerce during the depression years in "Buy American and Good 
Times Will Come Thru" by Al Lewis and Al Sherman (1933), and even 
the frustration brought about by blue laws in "What Are We Goin' To 
Do When There's Nothing To Do On Sunday" by Jerry Pease, Ed. G. 
Nelson, and Mitchell Parrish (1921). 

It should be noted at this point that some of the song sheets referred 
to thus far were not published by the major Tin Pan Alley publishers but 
by the individual composers themselves or by local publishing enter- 
prises. One discovers after viewing thousands of song sheets that the 
most direct and personal messages about any given topic are most often 
found in local or regional publications. Although exceptions did exist, 
the large Tin Pan Alley publishers tended to produce songs of a topical 
nature that communicated underlying messages in a light-hearted man- 
ner. This approach was undoubtedly used so that large portions of the 
population would not be offended or become commercially alienated 
from a company. Expression through song sheets was a widespread 
phenomenon unique in scale to early 20th-century America. In order to 
make full use of this historical resource, the era of song sheet publishing 
must be viewed in its entirety. Therefore, the large Tin Pan Alley 
institutions of New York must be looked upon not only as sources for 
songs but also as institutions that standardize the means by which 
thousands of local individuals could express themselves. 

The colorful covers of old song sheets also present a unique chronicle 
of American tastes in graphic art and clothing fashions, as well as an 
invaluable source of photographs of famous and forgotten composers, 
lyricists, Broadway performers, vaudevillians, motion picture perform- 
ers, and early radio personalities. The covers provide primary source 
material for those wishing to study the development and impact of 
popular graphic illustration during the early 20th century. Many of the 
covers were signed by the illustrators, and their impact on American 
popular culture is considerable. The illustrators who most often signed 
their work include Fredrick Manning, Rolf Armstrong, Henry Clive, 
Pud Lane, E. Pfeiffer, Gene Buck, F. Earl Christy, Haskel Coffin, 
Archie Gunn, Van Doom Morgan, and the last names of Starmer and 


Barbelle. Occasional examples can even be found by Normal Rockwell 
and Albert Vargas. Noted publisher and composer-arranger E.T. Paull 
produced over 100 sheets between the mid 1890's and the early 1920's 
featuring eye-catching covers with five-color lithograph illustrations 
that sold quite well despite the questionable quality of the music itself. 

Another aspect of Tin Pan Alley that is seldom considered is its role 
in the development of standard 20th-century marketing techniques. 
The need for sophisticated approaches to marketing song sheets was 
solved by using timely topics, eye-catching packaging, barnstorming 
techniques with song pluggers in restaurants and stores and on street 
corners, and celebrity endorsements with accompanying photographs 
and signatures on the covers. A photograph of Sophie Tucker or Al 
Jolson on a song sheet must have assured its success in the stores, since 
their names were used more often than those of any other performers of 
the period. 

The practice of producing sequels to highly profitable song sheets, a 
marketing approach all too common in the television and motion picture 
industries of today, was also utilized by Tin Pan Alley publishers. In 
stacks of old music the physical condition of these follow-up songs is 
often considerably better than that of the original product. Since the 
condition of a song sheet can imply how often it was used, it can also 
imply its acceptance as a good, singable song by the public. Despite the 
predictable fact that song sequels did not match the quality of the 
original, the frequency of their appearance shows that they must have 
been profitable for the publishers and composers. Examples of this 
practice include the following: "Let Me Call You Sweetheart" (1910) 
was followed by "Since You Called Me Sweetheart" (1912); "Who Paid 
the Rent for Mrs. Rip Van Winkle" (1914) was followed by "I Know 
Who Paid the Rent" (1914) and "Rip Van Winkle Slept With One Eye 
Open" (1918); "A Bird in a Gilded Cage" (1900) was Mowed by "The 
Mansion of Aching Hearts (1902); and Wendell Hall's hit, "It Ain't 
Gonna Rain No Mo" (1923) led to the creation of his "It Looks Like 
Rain" (1924) and "We're Gonna Have Weather Whether or Not" 
(1924). If a song was sung too often, as the case must have been with 
"Yes! We Have No Bananas" (1923), a "blues" answer may have been 
written such as "I've Got the Yes! We Have No Banana Blues" (1923). 

There were over one million different song sheets published during 
this period, so the amount of source material is indeed vast. In view of 


what this material contains, it is surprising that scholars in the social 
sciences have not recognized its potential for analysis. The examples 
presented in this discussion have served only to scratch the surface of 
possibilities available to researchers and educators. The most obvious 
stumbling blocks to utilizing them are first locating large quantities of 
sheets and then finding the often elusive examples relevant to a specific 
area of interest. There are a surprising number of institutions and private 
collectors that possess large libraries of this material, such as the Kansas 
City Public Library, UCLA, Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, the New 
York Public Library, and the Library of Congress, just to mention a few. 
Unfortunately, most institutional holdings are largely unorganized, but 
the challenge of sifting through large quantities of music can be fun as 
well as enlightening. Certainly making use of this unique cultural 
resource will present challenges, but as the knowledge of song sheets 
continues to grow, so will a more intimate knowledge of The United 
States' social history. 

Works Cited 

"Beatrice Fairfax Tell Me What To Do." Grant Clark, Joe McCarthy, and Jimmy 
Monaco. New York: Leo Feist, 1915 

"Bird in a Gilded Cage." Arthur J. Lamb and Harry von Tilzer. New York: Harry von 
Tilzer, 1900. 

"Bonus Blues." Frankie J. Schultz. Des Moines, IA: Loraine Music Publ., 1922. 

"Break the News to Mother." Charles K. Harris. Charles K. Harris, 1897. 

"Bullmoosers, The (A Party War Song)," Fritz Duquesne. New York: Spanuth and 
Strouse, 1912. 

"Buy American and the Good Times Will Come Thru." Al Lewis and Al Serman. New 
York: De Silva, Brown, and Henderson, 1933. 

"Camouflage." L. Wolfe Gilbert and Anatol Friedland. New York: Joseph W. Stern and 
Co., 1917. 

"Coon of Pedigree, A." William Friedlander and John Larkins. Chicago: Will Rossiter, 

"Darktown Strutter's Ball." Shelton Brooks. Chicago: Will Rossiter, 1917. 


"Day by Day in Every Way I'm Getting Better Day By Day." William Jerome and Jean 
Schwartz. New York: Jerome H. Remick and Co., 1923. 

"Don't Take My Darling Boy Away!" Will Dillon and Albert von Tilzer. New York; 
Broadway Music Corp., 1915. 

"Down in the U-17: A Musical Torpedo." Roger Lewis and Ernie Erdman. Chicago: F. 
J. A. Forster, 1915. 

"Get Up and Get Out." Gordon Johnstone and Geoffrey O'Hara. New York Leo Feist, 

"Girls of America (We Depend on You)." Bert Kalmar, Edgar Leslie, and Harry Ruby. 
New York: Kalmar, Puck, and Abrams, 1917. 

"How Are You Going to Wet Your Whistle When the Whole Darn World Goes Dry?" 
Francis Byrne, Frank Mclntyre, and Percy Wenrich. New York: Leo Feist, 1919. 

"I Didn't Raise My Boy to be a Soldier." Alfred Bryan and A. Piantadose. New York: Leo 
Feist, 1915. 

"I Know Who Paid the Rent." Jack Middleton and Ernie Burnett. St. Louis: Buck and 
Lowney, 1914. 

"ILovetheWholeUnitedStates." Roger Lewis and Ernie Erdman. Chicago: TellTavlor, 

"I'd Be Proud to be the Mother of a Soldier." Charles Bahya. New York: Shapiro, 
Bernstein, and Co., 1915. 

"IfTheyEverPutaTaxonLove." Sam EhrUch and Nat Osborne. New York- Harry von 
Tilzer, 1918. 

"If They Want to Fight, All Right — But 'Neutral' Is My Middle Name." Jack Frost and 

James White. Chicago: Frank K. Root and Co., 1915. 
"Ill See You in Cuba." Irving Berlin. New York: Irving Berlin, 1920. 

"In BlinkyWinkyChinky China Town." William Jerome and Jean Schwartz. New York: 
Waterson, Berlin, and Snyder, 1915. 

"It Ain't Gonna Rain No Mo'." Wendell Hall. Chicago: Forster Music, 1923. 

"It Looks Like Rain." Wendell Hall. New York: Jack Mills, 1924. 

"It's Tough When Izzy Rosenstein Loves Genevieve Malone." Gus Kahn and Grace Le 
Boy. Chicago: Will Rossiter, 1910. 


"I've Got a White Man Running My Automobile." Harry Zaun and Halsey K. Mohr. 
Brooklyn: Mohr and Wilkes, 1906. 

"I've Got the Yes! We Have No Banana Blues." Lew Brown, James F. Hanley and Robert 
King. New York: Shapiro, Bernstein and Co., 1923. 

"Let Me Call You Sweetheart." Beth Slater Whitson and Leo Friedman. Chicago: 
Harold Rossiter, 1910. 

"Little Black Me." Thurland Chattaway. New York: Howley, Haviland, and Co., 1899. 

"Little Good For Nothing's Good For Something After All, The." Lou Klein and Harry 
vonTilzer. New York: Harry von Tilzer, 1918. 

"Look Into Your Baby's Eyes and Say Goo-Goo." R. C. McPherson and James T. Brymn. 
New York: Shapiro, Remick, and Co., 1903. 

"Makin's of the U.S.A.: A Plea in Song for Tobacco for the Boys Over There." Vincent 
Bryan and Harry von Tilzer. New York: Harry von Tilzer, 1918. 

"Man Behind the Hammer and the Plow, The." Harry von Tilzer. New York: Harry von 
Tilzer. 1917. 

"Mansion of Aching Hearts" Arthur J. Lamb and Harry von Tilzer. New York, Harry von 
Tilzer, 1902. 

"March to the White House." Charles K. Harris. New York: Charles K. Harris, 1924. 

"Mr Hoover Don't Give Us a Loveless Day." Debbie Peterson and E. W. Penny. 
Minneapolis: Penny and Peterson, 1918. 

"My Brudda Sylvest." Jesse Lasky and Fred Fischer. New York: Fred Fischer, 1908. 

"My Little Zulu Babe." W. S. Estrem and James T. Brymn. New York: Windsor Music, 

"My Mother Was a Northern Girl." J. Fred Helf. Chicago: Sol Bloom, 1902. 

"One Hundred Per Cent American." Belle Ka Dell and Leo Friedman. Chicago: North 
American Music Co., 1919. 

"Rejected." Ella F. Haslip and E. Rosales. Chicago: Victor Kremer, 1909. 

"Rip Van Winkle Slept With One Eye Open." Alfred Bryan and Fred Fisher. New York: 
McCarthy and Fisher, 1918. 


"Since You Called Me Sweetheart." Milton D. Weil and F. Henry Klickmann. Chicago: 

Harold Rossiter, 1912. 
"Soldier Bonus Blues." Jack Randolph, R. R. Lence, and John E. Carroll. Wichita, KS: 


"Some Of These Days." Shelton Brooks. Chicago: Will Rossiter, 1910. 

"Star of Socialism Is Brightly Shining, The." Arthur A. Chief. St. Louis: A.A.Niel,1910. 

"Stay Down Here Where You Belong." Irving Berlin. New York: Waterson, Berlin, and 
Snyder, 1915. 

"Tammany." Vincent Bryan and Gus Edwards. New York: M.Witmark and Sons, 1910. 

"That's Yiddish Love." Joe Watson and James Brockman. New York M.Witmark and 
Sons, 1910. 

"There Ain't No Use In Workin' When There Ain't No One To Work." John Fiske and 
W. A. Bosenbury. St. Louis: Fibury Publishing Co., 1908. 

"There'd Never Been No Trouble If They'd Kidnapped a Coon." Tom Brown and Gussie 
Davis. New York: Howley, Haviland, and Co., 1899. 

"There'll Be a Hot Time For the Old Men While The Young Men Are Away," Grant 
Clarke and George W. Meyer. New York: Leo Feist, 1918. 

"There's No Need For Anyone To Borrow Trouble, For There's Plenty Here For All." 
Fred C. Crocker. St. Louis: Fredrick C. Crocker, 1915. 

"Wedding of the Chinee and the Coon." Billy Johnson and Bob Cole. New York: 
Howley, Haviland and Co., 1897. 

"We're Gonna Have Weather (Whether Or Not)." Wendell Hall. Chicago: Foster, 1924. 

"What Are We Goin' To Do (When There's Nothing To Do On Sunday)?" Harrv Pease, 
Ed. G. Nelson and Mitchell Parrish. New York: Joe Morris Music Co., 1921. 

"What You Goin' To Do When the Rent Comes 'Round (Rufus Rastus Johnson Brown)" 
Andrew B. Sterling and Harry von Tilzer. New York: Harry von Tilzer, 1905. 

"What's the Matter With Uncle Sam?" Mrs. Charles H. Toby. Dover, NH: Mrs. Charles 
H. Toby, 1913. 

"Who Dat Say Chicken In Dis Crowd." Paul Laurence Dunbar and Will Marion. New 
York: M. Witmark and Sons, 1898. 


"Who Paid the Rent For Mrs. Rip Van Winkle?" Alfred Bryan and Fred Fisher. New 
York Leo Feist, 1914. 

"Yes! We Have No Bananas." Frank Silver and Irving Cohn. New York: Skidmore Music 
Co., 1923. 

"Yonkel, the Cow-Boy Jew." Will J. Harris and Harry I. Robinson. Chicago: Will 
Rossiter, 1907. 

"You'll Never Be Missed 100 Years From Now." Billy Rose, Mort Dixon, and Redmond 
Farrar. New York: Irving Berlin, 1927. 


Unchained Melody: 

Postmodernism And 

Twentieth-Century Music 

J. Allen Michie 

There is traditionally no such thing as postmodern music. Chapters 
with that heading will rarely be found in books of music history. In light 
of several traits of postmodernism that have been discussed in relation to 
literature, architecture, painting, and photography, however, it seems 
evident that many of the same principles apply to certain kinds of 
contemporary music. The skeptical may object to the grouping of many 
distinct and different kinds of music under the same postmodern 
umbrella, but postmodern is so difficult to define in the first place that 
too much inclusionism at this point is better than not enough. 

Perhaps it would be helpful to take a moment to locate just what 
"modernism" is in music before we can properly speak of "postmodernism . " 
In a sentence, modernism in music was the discovery of relative harmony 
and, eventually, atonality. (The phrase "relative harmony" is being used 
as a parallel to "relative morality.") This refers to the realization that 
there is not one set perspective from which harmony can be judged: any 
combination of notes can be effective and expressive depending upon its 
context. Composers such as Varese, Bartok, Boulez and Stravinsky were 
among the first classical composers to pave the way for complete 
atonality, just as Kandinsky and Picasso made possible the achievements 
of Jackson Pollock. Atonality means that there is no underlying tonal 
center (stated or unstated) that anchors the harmony and places any one 
note in relation to any other note. Jacques Derrida writes that no single 
determinate meaning can evolve out of language because all meaning is 
ultimately deferred, and the same can be argued for the notes in the scale. 
For example, any one tone exists because it is not some other tone, and 
one tone always implies another. In atonal music, therefore, a determi- 
nate meaning (i.e., harmony) can never become established. The only 
rule in atonal music is that it must at all times remain atonal. 1 As with 
Derrida's theory of language, the ultimate deconstruction of structure 
must itself rely heavily upon a different kind of structure that is arguably 
every bit as tyrannical. Arnold Schoenberg's "twelve-tone" system of 
melody guarantees atonality because each of the twelve notes in the scale 
must be played before any one note can be repeated, but the price paid 
for harmony's freedom is melody's enslavement to a rigid and limited set 
of mathematically-derived combinations. 

If this is the epitome of "modernism," then what can post-modernism 
be? There were novelists who asked themselves the same question after 
the publication of Finnegans Wake. Like postmodern authors, compos- 


ers confronted with the pressures of modernism took a fresh look at the 
written and unwritten rules that govern their art. Postmodern composers 
seem to have agreed with their literary counterparts and arrived at the 
conclusion that the definitions of "classical" art are highly arbitrary and 
haunted by a long, weighty tradition whose legitimacy has never been 
seriously questioned. Just as postmodern poets like Christine Brooke- 
Rose experiment with the physical appearance of their texts, postmodern 
composers often search for innovative ways to "write" their music. 
Postmodern composers are aware of the gaps between musical notation 
and the sounds that they evoke to the same degree that postmodern 
authors are aware of the wide gaps between words and their range of 
meanings. 2 Ambiguity is given higher priority than authorial intention. 
A corollary of this semiotic position is an awareness of how the reader 
plays an equal or dominant role in the experience of reading and the 
production of meaning: postmodern composers are equally aware of how 
their music will be performed, who will be listening to it, what their other 
four senses will be doing while they listen, and how all of this contributes 
to the overall aesthetic experience. What follows in this article is a highly 
selective look at some of the individuals who, knowingly or otherwise, 
suggest these interdisciplinary parallels. 

The transitional figure from modernism to postmodernism is Karlheinz 
Stockhausen. He has frequently written about his music and has given 
very poetic interviews. One of his recurring themes, as with many 
postmodern authors, is the role of the artist in society and their respon- 
sibility to history. Stockhausen, like his postmodern literary colleagues, 
does not reject history: he just questions its status as history and the way 
in which it has been handed down to us. In the words of Karl Worner, 

However they may choose to confront it, composers are increas- 
ingly aware of a burden to be shed, the precipitate of half-a- 
century's intellectual inbreeding — of music about music, music 
about theories of music and music about the history of music. 
John Cage has elected to shed the entire Western tradition, 
though even on him it has left ineffaceable scars; Stockhausen, 
more positively, has re-routed it. 3 

Stockhausen was an innovator in more than one way, and almost all 
of the ways are somewhat postmodern. He was one of the first to be self- 
conscious about music as an overall experience; aware of its presence in 


the concert hall as an artistic "event." He was willing, therefore to 
sacrifice classical music's traditional privileging of the composer over the 
musicians and audience. Stockhausen was one of the first to expand the 
resources of classical music by systemizing the use of electronic instru- 
ments and recorded sounds introduced by Varese. He originated the 
important act of writing scores in radically new ways, realizing that the 
substance of the music is inseparable from the structure of the language 
that directs it. In a move that became particularly influential with avant- 
garde composers, he was one of the first to allow science to have a role 
in the music (the biology of the ear, limits and mechanics of sound 
frequencies, advanced laws of mathematics and probability, etc.) 

Many of Stockhausen's innovations can be heard in his famous 
composition "Momente," composed for musicians and chorus. When 
we hear a chorus in a classical piece all we expect them to do sing. 
Stockhausen knows that the chorus is a group of living, breathing human 
beings no different from the audience, so he makes use of hand-clapping, 
foot-stomping and a wider range of the capacities of the human voice. 
The chorus makes "unmusical" noises that sound like talking and 
laughing, questioning the taboos of etiquette surrounding the perfor- 
mance of classical music and blurring the distinction between so-called 
life and so-called art. The beginning of the work has the chorus 
applauding the audience, mirroring the ending when the audience will, 
presumably, applaud the chorus. 

Stockhausen often used laws of science, math and probability to guide 
his compositions, but it was John Cage who took this premise to its 
(il)logical conclusion and made complete randomness the cornerstone of 
his method. 4 Cage sometimes instructs musicians to follow the rules of 
Chinese "I Ching," a method of casting three coins six times, to randomly 
determine the structure and character of notes and musical ideas. One 
of his most frequently-performed pieces is for five radios: the score 
instructs the five musicians when to turn the tuning and volume knobs 
on their identical radios, and the audience hears whatever is or is not on 
the air. A darker example of the musical results of random generation can 
be heard in the unforgettable "Williams Mix." 

Cage is perhaps the musical parallel to Marcel Duchamp. His music 
and "anti-music" bears certain family resemblances to the art and anti- 
art of Dada, a movement whose similarities to postmodernism have 
generally been underestimated. As with Duchamp, there is a theory 


behind the madness. Just as Dada collage or postmodern literature 
remind us of the "textuality" of the world around us, Cage reminds us that 
the sounds around us are just as "musical" as anything that could be 
written in a formal classical composition. This is seen most directly in 
his 1952 piece "4:33," where the musician is to sit at a piano and play 
nothing for four minutes and 33 seconds. The audience is forced to listen 
to the sounds around them as the real music — traffic, clearing throats, 
confused laughter, rustling programs. They are also forced to consider 
the way classical music has privileged the virtuoso performer. The 
success of this work led to its inevitable sequel ten years later — "0:00," 
which is "to be performed in any way by anyone. 

"There is a parallel between the postmodern literary technique of 
"writing under erasure" and the music of John Cage. In literature only 
one word can be read at a time, so postmodern works such as John Fowles' 
The French Lieutenant's Woman often compensate by offering us alternate 
endings or by immediately juxtaposing one state of events with another. 
In music, however, it is possible to listen to more than one thing at the 
same time. Cage uses the phrase "circus principle" to describe music 
where two very different or opposing things are happening simulta- 
neously, a surreal and deconstructionist twist on counterpoint. An 
example is "Fontana Mix," four separate and virtually unrelated compo- 
sitions that can be played alone or together. Ten completely different 
styles of singing are juxtaposed by the same singer: jazz, lyric, contralto, 
Sprechstimme, dramatic, Marlene Deitrich, coloratura soprano, folk, 
oriental, babyish and nasal. This is deconstructionist collage and parody, 
presented as a sober challenge to traditional assumptions about the 
production and reception of art — a serviceable definition of 
postmodernism in the other media. 

One of Cage's innovations that has particular relevance to contempo- 
rary literary theories is his idea of "textual music". No notes are given, just 
instructions in words. Some textual compositions make no reference to 
sounds at all. A good example of textual music comes from one of Cage's 
proteges, LaMonte Young. Here is the entire composition "Piano Piece 
for David Tudor #1": 

Bring a bale of hay and a bucket of water onto the stage for the 
piano to eat and drink. The performer may then feed the 
piano or leave it to eat by itself. If the former, the piece is over 
after the piano has been fed. If the latter, it is over after the 
piano eats or decides not to. 5 


Instead of silently interpreting words with private meanings, musi- 
cians share their interpretations of a text with the audience through a 
medium that is equally as abstract. The audience, in turn, is then left: to 
interpret the interpretation. In Young's "Composition 1960 No. 3," the 
barrier between performer and audience is eradicated completely in the 
name of interpretation for its own sake: the lights are to be turned off, 
then there is a 50/50 chance that the audience will be told that whatever 
they did in the dark was the composition. Fringe sub-genres of textual 
music are "concept music" and "danger music," or music that exits — like 
language — only in theory. 6 One such piece calls for an impossibly high 
note to be played by an imaginary trumpet (Tom Johnson), another for 
a CBU bomb to be thrown into the audience (Phil Corner). (One is 
perhaps reminded here of the film Batman where the Joker aspires to be 
"the world's first fully practicing homicidal artist.") The point has 
something to do with the essentially arbitrary power we have given 
composers to tell us what to do and to tell us what is or is not art. 

Linda Hutcheon defines postmodern literature as "historiographic 
metafiction," a term designating fiction which refers to its status as 
fiction and is aware of how history (real or imagined) can only be known 
indirectly through narrative. What was once decentered or marginalized 
often moves front and center. Hutcheon's theory of literature also makes 
for a convenient description of what is misleadingly known as "minimalist" 
music. Composers such as Philip Corner, Steve Reich and Philip Glass 
show their awareness of musical history by the repetition of small and 
familiar motifs, a return to the basic "alphabet" of music. What was once 
marginalized in classical music and used as the building blocks for larger 
melodies becomes the melody itself — the background is the foreground, 
and the motifs, scales and embellishments are the music. It is post- 
structuralist in its own way: it questions our expectations of melody and 
returns us to the building-blocks of harmony, just as Derrida questions 
our expectations of narrative structure and returns us to the semantic 
building-blocks of language. 

Glass's minimalist operas are as postmodern in their content as they 
are in their form. He consistently chooses unorthodox subject matter 
(increasingly political), questioning what we expect of the typically 
"operatic." History is replaced by historiography: Einstein on the Beach 
juxtaposes the mathematician playing the violin on the beach with the 
landing of an alien spacecraft, just as John Barth interrupts his otherwise 


"realistic" novel with extra-terrestrials in The Sot- Weed Factor. The 
libretto for parts of Einstein on the Beach instructs the chorus to count to 
four in every conceivable combination. Glass has taken the twelve-tone 
concept, reduced it by one-third, and translated it into language at its 
most abstract. 

Glass' music depends heavily upon electronics. Even in an acoustic 
context, the instruments often seem to be imitating the sequencing 
function of a synthesizer. No one needs to be told by now that the 
emergence of electronics has been crucial to twentieth-century music. 
While Stockhausen's "Electronic Studies I and II" of 1953 were the first 
purely electronic classical pieces, two Parisians named Pierre Henry and 
Pierre Schaeffer had become infatuated with their portable tape recorder, 
which had just hit the market in the 1940s, and started the movement 
known as "musique concrete." Recorded sounds of trains, birds, people 
talking, random noise, etc. were sequed into live performance of acoustic 
instruments. The postmodern connection lies in the self-conscious and 
parodic nature of this music, how it questions the artificial boundaries 
people draw between what is and is not "music" and how we expect it to 
be performed "live." As heard in such works as Henry and Schaeffer's 
"Symphony for a Lone Man" in 1949, musique concrete closed the gap 
between live and recorded performance, between performance and text. 
Musique concrete, like postmodern literature, questions the status of the 
text and the privileging of the author — the music only exists on tape, on 
a record or in performance, so it can never be accurately "written." This 
is no news to musicians in the African, Asian and various folk traditions, 
but this was more or less the origin of a non-textual western classical 
music, setting the stage for the complete musical deconstruction by John 
Cage and his followers. 

One current postmodern trend in contemporary classical music is the 
re-invention of the most "classical" of ensembles, the string quartet. By 
playing their instruments in strange ways or by playing the repertoire of 
jazz or rock musicians, groups like the Kronos Quartet or the Turtle 
Island String Quartet have challenged many assumptions about tradition 
and brought new life into a dying genre. Perhaps the most memorable 
single example is the Kronos Quartet's version of "Purple Haze," a 
composition from one of music history's stringiest musicians, Jimi 
Hendrix. Is it rock because it is Hendrix, or is it classical because it is a 
string quartet? 7 


There is much interesting postmodern music currently being done 
outside the realm of classical music. Stockhausen and Cage broke so 
many of rules so fast that the pace of radical innovation is classical music 
has slowed down, perhaps out of necessity. Many of their ideas are just 
now starting to filter into jazz and popular music, directly or indirectly, 
combined with new ideas that arise out of the various contexts of these 
musics. Different genres bring about different genre-busting tech- 

In rock music, postmodernism arguably started with the Beatles. Sgt. 
Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band 'was an album by the most famous rock 
band in the world at the time, posing (with no attempt at disguise) as 
another band which did not exist (or did it, only within the context of the 
album?). The Beatles not only showed a consistent ironic awareness of 
their own position as pop icons, but also were often aware of the 
interdependence of medium and message. The last sound on the Sgt. 
Pepper's LP is one continuous groove that repeats nonsense over and over, 
inviting the audience to consider the "vinylness" of what they have been 
hearing by defeating the automatic turntable and forcing them to get up 
and change the record. The White Album juxtaposed the deliberately 
cliched silliness of songs like "Why Don't We Do it in the Road" with 
pieces such as "Revolution Number Nine," which introduced millions 
of rock fans to the eerie studio-manipulated experimentation that John 
Cage and Stockhausen had been doing for years. 

Studio manipulation in pop music today is alive and well, but cliched 
silliness is still the name of the game. Dance music has largely displaced 
more cerebral attractions at the top of the charts. Music Television has 
introduced a new energy and commercial viability to avant-garde imag- 
ery, however, as evidenced in MTVs dubious "Postmodern Video" 
programs. Appreciation for postmodern visuals has, so far, outstripped 
mass-market appreciation for the postmodern music which so rarely 
accompanies them. To isolate just one of the many exceptions, Laurie 
Anderson has always been self-conscious of how technology, melodies, 
rhythm, dance, film, abstract poetic lyrics and the spectacle on the stage 
all work together to create an artistic whole. She is one of the relativelv 
few rock artists who takes full artistic advantage of the synthesizer's 
enormously postmodern ability to sample sounds. 8 She is able to use the 
kinds of combinations, strange juxtapositions and distortions that 


postmodern literary artists strive to achieve with words alone. She will 
play an electronic violin, bowing a piece of audio tape across a tape 
recorder head rather than horsehair across strings, or lower her voice 
several octaves and assume a stereotypical masculine persona. Recent 
concert tours have seen her ask how one can separate the dancer and the 
dance, structuring her movements around the act of striking the drum 
machine built into her suit. Her keyboardist will occasionally wear a 
keyboard tie that is actually a working keyboard. There is always 
substance behind the gimmickry, however — pieces such as "Sharkey's 
Day" and "Smoke Rings" simultaneously question gender roles and the 
darkness behind the American Dream, while more whimsical pieces 
such as "Talk Normal" display a cynical, tongue-in-cheek attitude 
toward her own celebrity status. 

One rock group that may require an introduction to many academic 
readers is Sigue Sigue Sputnik. This band's music can be interpreted as 
very postmodern, but in a different direction from Laurie Anderson's. 
Sigue Sigue Sputnik is part of the second-generation British punk scene. 
What came between the first generation and the second generation was 
American NewWave in the early 1980s. Bands such as Devo, the B-52s 
and the early Talking Heads fused the kitsch of 1950s pop culture with 
self-parodic modern video technology and cheap synthesizer sounds, 
and the juxtaposition created a kind of soulless postmodern effect. Sigue 
Sigue Sputnik maintains the tackiness and angular quirkiness of New 
Wave, adding the anarchic energy of Punk while juxtaposing irreconcil- 
able musical genres: they especially seem to enjoy vandalizing classical 
music, making the same kind of point that Duchamp made by drawing 
a moustache on the Mona Lisa. 

What separates Sigue Sigue Sputnik from most other mass-market 
rebels is their self-conscious attitude toward the commercialism of 
popular music, allowing them to satirize it in the act of exploiting it; a 
similar approach used by postmodern authors such as Italo Calvino in If 
on a Winters Night a Traveler who exploits formulaic expectations of 
literary genres while deconstructing them. For example, Sigue Sigue 
Sputnik rents out advertising space on their album covers and mixes paid 
advertisements into their songs. Of course it is a gimmick, but they seem 
to know it is a gimmick, and the self-reflexivity therefore cancels itself 
out. Everything about them is completely exaggerated, from their mock- 


Elvis hairdos to their sarcastic lyrics about the common rock themes of 
teenage love, lust and narcissism. The whole phenomenon is an 
intentional parody of pop culture, including itself. 

There is a distinctive sub-genre of Reggae music that is postmodern 
more in its effect than in its intention, blurring the lines between parody 
and authenticity. "Dub" takes its name from the producer's and music 
editor's methods of "dubbing" one piece of tape onto another. This 
music maintains the essence of the reggae groove while weaving in 
sampled fragments of reggae conventions and cliches, usually in an 
altered or distorted form. The overall tone is more self-reflexive than 
outright satirical, and the atmosphere of experimentation is more earthy 
than academic. The music refers back unapologetically to its status as a 
kind of studio-built Frankenstein, but also looks forward at the same 
time and never loses sight of its function as innovative and appealing 
dance music with a definite Caribbean flavor. Early examples can be 
found in the music of Linton Kwesi Johnson, and more recent and 
postmodern examples would be Dub Syndicate and Twenty- First Cen- 
tury Dub. 

One wishes that American R&B would learn from Dub how to take 
an ironic look at how formulaic it has become while remaining true to its 
base in African- American culture. Prince has taken a few steps in this 
direction, creating several successful innovations in instrumentation and 
arrangements, but there is no real irony in his borrowings from James 
Brown and Little Richard. He is better described as "contemporary" 
rather than postmodern. There is a great deal of self-reflexivity and 
sampling in rap, but there is yet to be anything that could be called a 
systematic deconstruction of itself and its own cliches. The closest thing 
to historiographic R&B metamusic to date is perhaps the early music of 
The Art of Noise, some of Soul II Soul's recent work, and the unexpect- 
edly popular dance floor mixes of the group Enigma (who dubs samples 
of Gregorian chants onto a funky unsynchronized rhythm track). Some 
of the most postmodern R&B is found in music that uses elements ol 
R&B, such as the jazz "fusion" of Ronald Shannon Jackson, James Blood 
Ulmer, Bill Laswell, and Steve Coleman with his fellow musicians of the 
"M-Base" school. 

I would like to conclude with a more detailed look at jazz, the one field 
of non-classical music where the most interesting postmodern develop- 
ments have been happening over the last 30 years. There is a great deal 


of historiographic meta- music in jazz, as it is perhaps the one musical 
genre which is most amenable to postmodernism. For one thing, jazz is 
a purely twentieth-century art form. It is misleading to hear jazz 
musicians and critics speak of "classicism," "modernism" and now even 
"neo-classicism" in jazz: all jazz is essentially "modernist." From another 
perspective within the genres and sub-genres of jazz, anything after 
Charlie Parker and the emergence of be-bop around 1945 (the kind of 
music usually called "modern jazz") can technically be called "postmodern." 
9 Also, jazz musicians have always been expected to play old songs in new 
ways, a distinctly postmodern frame of mind. As we have seen, much 
postmodern music depends upon the improvisations of musicians within 
a given framework, and as a general rule, jazz musicians are much more 
comfortable with spontaneity than are traditionally trained classical 

Alto saxophonist, violinist and trumpeter Ornette Coleman has emerged 
as the most influentialjazz theorist and composer since Thelonius Monk. He 
catalyzed the avant-garde movement in jazz, sometimes known as "free jazz" 
because it abandoned the traditional song structures and harmonic patterns 
inherited from the blues and Tin-Pan Alley which make up the bulk of the 
jazz repertoire. His musical theory is called "harmolodics," a linguistic and 
musical conflation of "harmony" with "melody." Coleman wants his 
musicians to consider harmony, melody and rhythm as equals, deconstructing 
the usual musical dichotomy ofhaving a melodic solo voice that is to be played 
over a secondary harmonic background. 10 As Coleman has said, "Let's play 
the music and not the background". u 

Free jazz is, in a sense, a throw-back to New Orleans or Dixieland jazz. 
It is a return to the idea of collective improvisation where everyone 
simultaneously feeds off of one another's ideas. As with the music of 
Philip Glass, free jazz is therefore a "back-to-the basics" approach with 
a modernist twist. On a purely sonic level, the music such as that found 
on the album Free Jazz may, to some ears, sound indistinguishable from 
atonal music. It certainly did to a majority of Coleman's early listeners, 
such as the ones who assaulted him after a club engagement and threw 
his saxophone off a hill. 12 This music is generally more intellectual than 
complete atonality, however, and it requires more cooperation and 
concentration from the musicians. Coleman's music is meant to be poly- 
tonal rather than atonal, simultaneously juxtaposing two or more tonali- 


ties or key signatures. If the musicians are good enough and listening 
carefully, the group as a whole can improvise tonal centers as rapidly and 
efficiently as they improvise melodies. 

Charles Mingus, Albert Ayler, Max Roach and John Coltrane con- 
nected free jazz to the politics of the Black Freedom movement during 
the 1960s, and the association is still valid for many musicians and 
listeners today. As Coltrane put it, "We all know that this word which 
so many people seem to fear today, 'Freedom,' has a hell of a lot to do with 
this music". 13 The connection of free jazz with the politics of the Black 
Freedom movement brings up a problem with categorizing this music as 
"postmodern," however. It is widely agreed that part of what makes 
something postmodern rather than deconstructionist, pastiche or simply 
eccentric is the element of parody, and by and large there is not much 
parody in the first generation of free jazz. This music was a life-or-death 
commitment for these musicians, and it was never easy for them to get 
their work taken seriously as artistic or political statements, not to 
mention trying to make a living. The rest of this paper will therefore 
focus on those artists who make use of Coleman's harmolodic language, 
but who say more satiric and "historiographic" things with it. 

Anthony Braxton is one of the most ambitious composers in the 
history of jazz. He plays every reed instrument (including the rare bass 
saxophone, which is over six feet tall) , and perhaps more so than any other 
musician has assimilated the theories of Stockhausen and Cage into a 
jazz context. He has adapted Stockhausen's technique of writing musical 
scores in a language unique to the piece itself, adding colors and three- 
dimensional graphics. Braxton's early music was modelled on Cage's 
desire to banish all subjective emotion from music in favor of objective 
mathematical formula — a step that was perhaps even more radical for 
jazz than it was for classical music. Braxton called his technique 
"conceptual transference," a mixture of deliberately different elements 
not unlike what Cage calls the "circus principle." As far as parodv and 
historiographies are concerned, later in his career Braxton decided that 
emotion in music was not necessarily such a bad thing after all, and he 
began to record jazz standards transformed from the Stockhausen 
perspective. Braxton has returned most often to the compositions of 
Scott Joplin. Like Braxton, Joplin was a structuralist who straddled the 
fence between jazz and classical music, experimenting with questions of 
syncopation, balance, form, and recurring motifs. 


Braxton is a member of an organization in Chicago known as the 
Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, or the AACM. 
This aggregation became the most important "support group" for avant- 
garde jazz musicians in America, and several interesting collaborations 
and exchanges of ideas have come out of this family of like-minded 
individualists. One of the most important and entertaining of these 
collaborations is a group that has remained intact for over 25 years, the 
Art Ensemble of Chicago. The AECO parodies the entire jazz tradition, 
but they are able to create deadly serious and sophisticated music while 
doing so. They will often begin one of their pageants with a New Orleans 
parade through the audience, and may change styles of jazz performance 
and composition several times within any one piece. Like Stockhausen, 
Glass and Cage, they are very aware of their music as it exists as 
performance. They are likely to wear bizarre make-up and costumes on 
stage and do things like pass out paper bags for the audience to wear over 
their heads during the show. As with many of the musicians in the 
AACM, they take a cross-cultural view of jazz as a world music, and they 
do not hesitate to incorporate African, Brazilian, Indian, or any other 
kind of music into their own. What literary critics call "intertextuality," 
in a jazz context, often manifests itself as a global awareness of all music 
being the same in its spiritual essence. It is no accident that this 
awareness arose with the Black Consciousness movement in the 1960s, 
with its renewed interest in the spirit of Africa and its pervasive relevance 
to contemporary life in the United States. The pastiche of universalism 
is often avant-garde jazz's answer to racism. 

No one is more universal than Sun Ra and his Arkestra. There was 
once a big-band-era pianist named Herman Blount, who, after a spiritual 
revelation in the late 1950s informing him that he was actually an 
immortal spiritual being from Saturn, became Le Sun Ra. The music is 
often comical without ever being contrived, artificial or insubstantial. 
Sun Ra is a devoted admirer of Duke Ellington, and often re-works 
Ellington's swinging tunes within a avant-garde, universalist context. 
Imagine the postmodern situation — here are about 15 middle-aged or 
older men and women, all dressed like choir boys in red velvet gowns with 
tuxedo shirts and gold glitter fezs on their heads, led by the 80 year-old 
Sun Ra himself playing swing piano and atonal synthesizer while dressed 
in a robe of glitter with a various unidentifiable cosmic objects on his 
head, brought on stage by female dancers with bright orange wigs and 


fairy wings, all throwing themselves into a wild version of "Let's Go Fly 
a Kite" or "Slumming on Park Avenue." What differentiates Sun Ra 
from any number of gimmicky performers is his unwavering sincerity — 
the emphasis on the intergalactic gives him a vantage point from which 
he can look down on all the musics and religions on earth and see them 
as one coherent and uncontradictory whole. It is intertextual, self 
referential, parodic and historiographic; but it is too spiritual and simplv 
too much fun to be merely an academic exercise in musical revisionism. 

Avant-garde jazz in the 80s and 90s appears to be, for better or for 
worse, generally less political and cross-cultural than it was in the 60s and 
early 70s. It is, however, just as parodic and satirical and has returned to 
the basic structures of Coleman's harmolodics. Several of these musi- 
cians are directly aware of the principles behind literary deconstruction, 
and there have been a number of interesting reworkings of old jazz 
standards. This is done by repeating and distorting musical cliches, 
imitating exaggerated styles of melody, disrupting our expectations of 
songs we have heard hundreds of times before, and by juxtaposing or 
superimposing familiar melodies with strange noise. One typical (a 
relative term here) musician is Lester Bowie (trumpeter for the Art 
Ensemble of Chicago), whose band Brass Fantasy harmolodicizes such 
unlikely compositions as "It's Howdy Doody Time," James Brown's "I 
Feel Good," and Whitney Houston's "Saving All My Love for You." 
Other tongue-in-cheek deconstructionist groups include Power Tools (a 
sinister version of "Unchained Melody" is found on the album Strange 
Meeting) and Naked City, both bands featuring the smashing guitar of 
Bill Frisell. Special mention should also be made of the group Doctor 
Nerve, whose album Beta 14 OK features the composition "44 Nerve 
Events for You to Program in Inventive Sequences." This is the onlv 
attempt I know of to take advantage of the compact disk player's random 
access feature to bring the listener into a unique position in realizing the 
music: there are 44 individually indexed tracks lasting from one to ten 
seconds, including the individual notes of the twelve-tone scale, and the 
liner notes invite the listener to become the composer by programming 
them at random or in any sequence he or she desires. 

Perhaps the single most postmodern musician alive today, jazz or 
otherwise, is John Zorn. His is historiographic meta-music if there is 
such a thing — his arrangements are full of unexpected juxtapositions, 
false and alternative endings, unexpected combinations of musicians and 


styles, music under erasure, a total disregard for conventional musical 
boundaries, and an awareness of how music is contained by vinyl records 
and audiotape; everything being filtered through a harmolodic sensibil- 
ity and applied parodically to the works of other composers. There are 
recognizable elements of musique concrete lifted straight from Varese 
and Stockhausen, but the effect is usually achieved in "real time" by agile 
musicians rather than by tape editing. A fine example is his take on the 
song "Der Kleine Leutnant des Lieben Gottes" which among other 
things combines Japanese koto music with banjo, duck calls, accordion, 
electric guitar, sound effects, and vocals in several languages, all applied 
parodically to a song by Kurt Weill and creating a miniature portrait of 
German society. 

Academic formalism would clearly be the wrong approach to appre- 
ciating a composition such as "Der Kleine Leutnant." This is one of the 
most urgent lessons of postmodern music, the "garde" of which it is 
"avant." Yet when listening to your local public radio station, what does 
the disk jockey say about a piece (if anything)? He or she is likely to 
mention biographical facts about the composer, historical circumstances 
of its composition, other pieces that "influenced" it, and, especially with 
classical music, the mechanics of the musical form. By contrast, 
contemporary literary critics rarely have much to say about any of these 
things today. Formalism is dead, but the word has not quite made it over 
to the Music Department yet. Music critics generally are still not 
comfortable when someone starts to talk about the listener's role in 
realizing the music, psychology, supra-musical influence, the role of the 
media and concert hall, stereotypes of classical music, and questioning 
the legitimacy of authorial intention. 14 It appears for the time being that 
postmodernism will be relegated to its usual position on the underground 
fringe. There are some exceptions — just as Name of the Rose or The 
Satanic Verses have become best-sellers, so have Philip Glass and Ornette 
Coleman reached relatively wide audiences. As for new directions that 
postmodern music can take, I am not aware of any truly postmodern 
blues or postmodern country music. 15 This is a shame, because both of 
these styles have long histories and are full of cliches in sore need of 
deconstruction. Much work has been done, much has gone unacknowl- 
edged, and much is yet to be done. 



1 It has been said that pure atonality is theoretically impossible since any grouping of 
instruments will produce tones that are more dominant than others. The term is 
sometimes replaced by "pantonality" (or "inclusive of all tones"), although this concept 
seems to me to be even less theoretically viable. Actually listening to this kind of music 
often makes such arguments seem like academic quibbles. An example of polite atonality 
from classical music is Arnold Schoenberg's Variations for Orchestra, and an example of 
fierce atonality from jazz is "Improvisations" by the Globe Unity Orchestra. 

2 John Cage's book Notations does both, combining fragments of postmodern musical 
scores with self-reflexive fragments of quotes from the composers about the art of notating 
music. Which fragments of which scores appear on what page, which quotes accompany 
them by which composer, and in what typography the words appear are all determined 
through the random generation of I-Ching. 

3 Karl Worner, Stockhausen: Life and Work (Berkeley, 1973), 14-15. 

4 At least one classical composer was using random generation from as far back as 1 75 1 . 
William Hayes would dip a stiff brush into ink and splatter it onto the staff paper, a 
technique he describes in The Art of Composing Music by a Method Entirely New, Suited to 
the Meanest Capacity: Whereby all Difficulties are Removed, and a Person Who has Made Never 
So Little Progress Before, May with Some Small Application, be Enabled to Excel. 

5 Michael Nyman, Experimental Music: Cage and Beyond (New York, 1974), 70. 

6 ibid, 71. 

7 The Greene String Quartet has recendy upped the ante on Kronos, recording 
"Welcome to the Jungle" by the heavy metal group Guns and Roses. The piece is 
programmed alongside works by Aaron Copeland and Bela Bartok. 

8 Sampling is a technique where any recorded sound is translated into a digital code 
of sound patterns that can be reproduced and altered at will from a synthesizer. Rap artists 
have recently tested the legal boundaries of the copyright law by using "samples" of pre- 
existing songs, especially those of James Brown, as rhythm tracks or hooks. Synthesizer 
sampling in popular music has virtually supplanted its grandfather in classical music, 
musique concrete. 

9 In a 1984 issue of Down Beat, Alax Axelrod associates postmodernism with the post- 
bebop "neo-classicism" in jazz. "What separates the new traditionalism from the old is the 
acute self-consciousness of its practitioners, who appropriate the past with a calculated 
mixture of reverence and irony," he writes. "Like some architects of late, many composers 
now seek to overcome absolutist allegiance to tradition by using tradition, employing time- 
honored forms and gestures self-consciously, with wit and invention and in a self-opposing 
context of modernism. ... At its most successful, post-modern art draws on a communal 
vocabulary in order to give a voice to individual vision" (48). Axelrod's comments appear 
in connection with reviews of new releases by pianists David Lopato, Martial Solal, Ran 
Blake, Kirk Lightsey, Joe Bonner, Patrick Godfrey, Wolfgang Dauner, Walter Davis Jr., 
Horace Tapscott, Marilyn Crispell, Sakis Papasimitriou, Fred Van Hove, and Borah 


10 More precisely, Coleman has recently written that harmolodics is "the use of the 
physical and mental of one's own logic made into an expression of sound to bring about 
the musical sensation of unison executed by a single person or with a group. Harmony, 
melody, speed, rhythm, time, and phrases all have equal position in the results that come 
from the placing and spacing of ideas." Ornette Coleman, "Prime Time For Harmolodies," 
Down Beat 50 (July, 1983), 54-55. 

11 Quoted in Martin Williams, "Ornette Coleman: Innovation from the Source," in The 
Jazz Tradition (New York, 1983), 235. 

12 A.B. Spellman, Four Lives in the Bebop Business (London, 1967):124. 

13 CO. Simpkins, Coltrane: A Biography (NY, 1975): 160. 

14 This is of course ironic, because classical composers have been in on the game all 
along. Mozart (a contemporary of Lawrence Sterne) has a piece named "A Musical Job" 
which is a concert piece masquerading as a serenade, toying with the audience's expecta- 
tions of what kind of music will be played in what kind of progression in a concert setting, 
and his piece Musical Dice Game, K.294d'is an eerie prefiguration of John Cage. Beethoven, 
too, knew all about false entrances and false endings. 

15 Amusing exceptions include the Surreal McCoys and the Austin Lounge Lizards 
(e.g., a fast bluegrass reading of Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon"), but neither has 
developed the concept deliberately or consistendy, remaining basically conventional 
groups who perform occasional novelty numbers. 


"I Know It's Only Rock & 

Roll . . .": Patriarchy, Culture, 

And Rock Music 

Marjorie R. Abel 

This paper explores rock and roll music in the context of U.S. culture 
and argues that rock and roll music cannot be reduced to sociological 
functions and that cultural meaning and patriarchal structure are en- 
coded in the description and positioning of rock music in U.S. culture. 
The essay begins by examining the social construction of culture and 
cultural description, with an underlying goal to examine the problematic 
nature of defining culture in monolithic terms and explore the manner 
in which cultural meaning is constituted and interpreted. 

The concept of culture, although used and abused freely among all the 
social sciences, has been central to the field of anthropology. Anthropol- 
ogy has struggled long with defining culture and usually resolved the 
problem through description. Historically, anthropology brought de- 
scription of far away lifestyles to western social science. Constituted in 
western discourse, the "culture" of the "Other" became a bounded 
ahistorical or timeless object of study. Little attention was directed 
towards understanding how the discourse in the descriptions reflected 
the power of the dominant culture. 

Beginning in the 1960s, anthropology not only witnessed the begin- 
nings of major theoretical shifts but also changes in the lives of people it 
studied. Western contact and capitalist development altered the context 
of anthropology and the discipline had more difficulty locating "culture" 
in its "pure" form. Although anthropologists began to shift their focus 
to more contemporary arenas of study, the use of the comparative 
method often idealized "traditional" cultural practices in relation to 
modernization. Popular culture in western societies remained outside 
the parameters of anthropological cultural studies and in its study of 
western cultures, it joined sociology and focused on subcultures. l 

In early sociological studies of subcultures the focus was on deviance 
and rebellion in urban environments. Dick Hebdige writes, "In such 
accounts, the subculture tends to be presented as an independent 
organism functioning outside the larger social, political and economic 
context". 2 The implication of this method of inquiry is that there is a 
more "complete culture" which these subcultures exist outside of, just as 
the culture of the "Other" was situated in opposition to western societv. 
The analytical issue here is that the language of description of subcultures 
contains assumptions about the subject and relationships of power . 3 

Recently, social scientists, influenced by postmodern theory and 
narrative histories of popular culture, have raised questions about how 


constructed images of the "Other" through language and text, can 
maintain the western power structure. 4 The work of the French neo- 
structuralist Michel Foucault has influenced postmodern social scien- 
tists as they seek to avoid constructing culture as an empirical unit and 
focus attention to the discourse used in text in the construction of 
culture. 5 The process of questioning the authorship of culture raises 
issues about the methods of traditional interpretation and moves towards 
an interdisciplinary mode of inquiry. 

Drawing from the concerns of postmodern anthropologists, the task 
in this analysis is to observe the discourse by which the dominant culture 
describes rock and roll and to view rock music as an active force in the 
history and social relations of American culture. At the same time, I will 
provide insights into oral tradition and human agency as social practices 
reflected through the rock concert. The essential element of the analysis 
of rock and roll as popular culture is to explore how cultural hierarchies 
are constituted. 

Despite the commercial success, extensive popularity, and social 
impact of rock and roll, the dominant culture continues to question its 
musical and aesthetic condition in the U.S. As Lawrence Grossberg 
states, "Rock and roll has, repeatedly and continuously, been attacked, 
banned, ridiculed, and relegated to an insignificant cultural status." 6 
Descriptions in the late 1950s went so far as to suggest that it was 
communist inspired and a direct threat to the stability of American 
society. Rock and roll was essentialized into a social problem to be 

Even though rock and roll is receiving the attention of scholarly 
inquiry, on a descriptive level within a wide range of contexts, it is 
dismissed frequently as noise or unintelligible sounds with little aesthetic 
or musical value. Allan Bloom calls it "junk food for the soul." 7 
Moreover, since the 1950s, there has been a persistent prediction of the 
"death" of rock and roll. Other critics emphasize the commercialization 
of rock in which audiences are characterized as passive consumers of mass 
culture. 8 

Yet, many academic disciplines are exploring rock and roll as a viable 
form of popular culture. 9 For example, structural critiques of rock and 
roll associate it strongly with youth culture and focus on it as a form of 
rebellion. 10 The description of rebellion suggests power relations in 
which the dominant culture defines the discourse by which to position 


rock and roll. Descriptive language, such as alienating, rebellious, and 
non-conforming, exists within a specific political discourse. The cre- 
ation of dichotomies assumes there is a common model for cultural 
behavior and a single monolithic rock identity. It ignores the complexity 
and contradiction in the cultural narrative of rock music in which both 
power relations and conformity are negotiated and changed. The 
functional interpretations and descriptions produce cultural opposition 
in which rock and roll is positioned as a marginalized musical and cultural 
form. In the power relations constituted in this discourse are assump- 
tions that performers are lesser musicians and the music is inferior and 
"primitive." The dominant culture defines culture which is measured by 
European standards and "... recognizable only by those trained to 
recognize it. 11 Moreover, the emphasis on youth and rebellion creates a 
perception of rock and roll as unchanging and timeless, thereby denying 
its historical African American roots. 

The immediate history of rock and roll is traced to the 1950s and the 
music and performance of individuals such as Little Richard and Chuck 
Berry, who created and established the cultural-musical effect of rock. 
However, the roots of rock and roll are formed in the American blues and 
its connection to the agrarian economy and racial segregation of the rural 
South, particularly the Mississippi Delta. u 

The blues are situated in the oral and musical tradition of African- Americans. 
LeRoi Jones (Amiri Baraka) describes the blues "... as a native American music, 
the product of the black man in this country. . .." 13 Traditionally, the blues focused 
on individual everyday experiences connected by a commonality of culture and 
shaped by specific power relations in the American south. Work, love, sex 
and conflict between men and women were themes repeated in blues 
discourse and identifiable in the lives of individual performers and 
listeners. These aspects continue to be dominant themes in rock and roll. 
The particular cultural formation from which the blues developed, and 
rock and roll inherited, was a product of African- American origins and 
a history specific to the U.S. Angela Davis suggests the themes of 
interpersonal relationships in the blues "functioned as metaphors" for life 
and trouble and contributed to black social consciousness in segregated 
America. 14 

During and after World War II, there was a large migration of 
African-Americans to northern industrial cities. George Lipsitz argues 
that defense production for World War II and its demand for industrial 


labor created the cultural conditions for the development of urban rock 
and roll. 15 As had African -Americans who left the south at the turn of 
the century, the new arrivals brought their historical traditions of the 
blues and black folk music which they expanded and developed in the 
crowded, urban, industrial environments of cities such as Detroit and 
Chicago. The cultural understanding of the blues as a social expression 
and a musical form was combined with experiences in the urban context 
to create the musical form which evolved into rock and roll. 16 

Major blues artists such as John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters, B.B. 
King, and others who created the musical context for rock and roll, were 
among those employed in factory jobs. 17 Other performers, like Robert 
Johnson, whose music connected the Mississippi Delta blues and urban 
culture and whose songs have been recorded by the Rolling Stones, Led 
Zeppelin, and ZZ Top, remained hidden from history until recently. 18 

However, it was not just individuals and their music which brought 
the growth and appreciation of the blues, as well as the creation of rhythm 
and blues and rock and roll; rather, it involves the entire black experience, 
cultural history and communality. 19 Although themes and musical riffs 
are essential elements in the inheritance from the blues, it is the oral 
tradition of cultural performance which has had the greatest and endur- 
ing impact on rock and roll. In the creation of the performance, the rock 
band symbolizes identity with the audience on a cultural, physical, and 
musical level. One of the salient characteristics of rock and roll, 
particularly evident in rock concerts, duplicated in music videos, and 
embodied by listeners, is participation. The essence of the rock concert 
is the energy it creates in the dialogue established between audience and 
performers. It involves a multitude of events such as dancing, singing, 
cheering, the lighting of cigarette lighters throughout the audience or 
individuals throwing panties and bras onto the stage. However, the basic 
aspect of participation is the call and response. 

The call and response structure can be traced to African poetry and 
music which allows for dialogue with the text and contributes to 
communality and collaboration between audience and performers. 20 
Although the Africans who were captured, enslaved and brought to 
North America during the slave trade had varied origins, distinct 
histories, and cultural heritages, they shared social traditions surround- 
ing their music. African music was integrated with drama and a part of 
the oral tradition of the collective experience of everyday life. 21 


The call and response was a vital aspect of African- American music. 
Derived from the oral tradition, it survived and adapted to the particular 
cultural, political-economic complexities of the American south. The 
call and response was characterized in black slave music by the lead singer 
beginning the song and others joining in singing on the refrains, the 
"hollers and shouts" could be repeated again and again. 22 

Performance practices ultimately determined the character of slave 
music, blues, and rhythm and blues, which resulted in improvisation and 
variation as the music took shape during performance. 23 These charac- 
teristics of African- American folk and blues are critical to the essence of 
what constitutes rock and roll. When Little Richard sings "Good Golly 
Miss Molly, you sure like to ball" two times, and then completes the verse 
with a third line that comments on the first two — "When you're rockin' 
and a rollin', you can't hear your mama call," and when throughout the 
song instrumental bursts "answer" and "respond" to the vocalist's "call" 
the African- American connection is made clear. 24 

The vocalization of the call and response by the performer can be 
entered into by other stage performers, instruments creating riffs, and the 
audience as they become part of the performance. At this point, the 
articulation of the song's words are subsumed by the democratic spirit 
created in the text of performance. 

Rock groups, such as the Rolling Stones and Aerosmith, have mas- 
tered the aspect of participation and emotional impact contained in 
black-music tradition. John Wells describes the emotional connections 
between the Rolling Stones and their blues heritage. 

From their earliest records the Rolling Stones embellish 
Black expressiveness; Mick Jagger's vocals usually include an 
amount of distortion, groans, moans, howls and screams, 
often using phrasing that is barely intelligible. Again, emo- 
tional feeling is emphasized over and above articulation, and 
as in African music, the repetition of phrasing and rhythm often 
leads to a creation and resolution of tension. 25 

Communal participation through the call and response blurs the 
division between audience and performers. Participation is connected 
with performance practices which place the performer in a continual 
dialogue with non-performers. Pauses in the vocal dialogue of the 


performers are filled with clapping, responsive yelling and screaming as 
well as physical movement by the audience. The participation is related 
also through oral tradition or story-telling connected with the concert. 
The oral tradition begins with participants waiting in line for tickets 
where accounts of past concerts are related. Likewise, waiting for 
performers to appear and late starting concerts create tension and 
dramatize the ritual occasion in which oral recollections of previous 
concerts are reinterpreted to signify participation. 

The social aspect of participation and audience elaboration upon the 
musical text are embodied in and structure the practice of rock and roll. 
This not only distinguishes rock and roll from classical and popular music 
but contributes to the enduring qualities of specific rock groups. And, 
to a large extent, the participatory effect accounts for the premier 
desirability of live performance and "bootleg" tapes which document 
participation. The social significance of drama, performance, and 
democratic spirit of the audience is captured in rock and roll as an 
American art form. 26 However, rock and roll was not the creation of an 
entirely new musical form but grew out of the musical tradition of black 

A central argument of this paper is that the social construction of 
culture has created a marginalized position of popular culture, particu- 
larly rock and roll music, in cultural discourse. The discourse which 
describes rock music as a function of youth rebellion and alienation, or 
as a commercial commodity, denies rock music, and its predecessors the 
blues and rhythm and blues, active roles in American musical and cultural 
tradition. These interpretations illuminate more about the dominant 
culture than the music. It is within the social interaction of performance 
and democratic spirit that rock performers and audience contest the 
patriarchal structure of culture. 

Patriarchy draws much of its power from the differentiation between 
gender constructs in which the social construction of gender roles 
(woman vs man) become a fundamental concept of sexual identity. 27 The 
expressive androgyny in rock performance and the aggressive participa- 
tion of females of the audience directly challenge these cultural con- • 

Likewise, as male rock performers explore gender ambiguities and 
flamboyant performance they contradict the patriarchally ordered mean- 
ing of "manhood" associated with rational, disciplined work-behavior. 


Rock groups further contest structured behavioral positions through 
rock discourse; Guns and Roses sing, "Nice boys don't play rock and 
roll." 28 

Performers like Little Richard and Prince openly display gender 
ambiguities through behavior, make-up, and clothing. Many rockers use 
contradictions in gender roles and dress in their performance. Aggres- 
sive male engendered body movement and posturing is juxtaposed with 
a range in decorative display, such as earrings, bracelets, necklaces, 
spandex or mesh-like pants, eye shadow and dyed blonde hair, signs 
more often associated with females. 29 However, the performance 
dramatization also may have historical significance. 

The flamboyant drama and display of contemporary male rock per- 
formers was characteristic of early women blues musicians. In his 
description of "classic blues women," William Barlow comments: 

Ms. Rainey's stage appearance was legendary. She was a 
flamboyant dresser who usually wore expensive floor-length 
gowns laden with glitter and frills and carried a huge, frosty 
ostrich fan. She also wore a tiara set with diamonds and a fine 
array of diamond rings, earrings with diamonds and a fine 
array of diamond rings, earrings, and necklaces. 30 

In the dialogue between performers and audience the aggressive 
sexual movement of rock performers (predominantly male) moves from 
the stage to the audience where sexuality is expressed in responsive dance 
and movement. Although both men and women enter into the perfor- 
mance, it is the participation of women in the expression of female 
sexuality which is the most threatening to patriarchal cultural norms. 
Women, adopting aggressive sexual behavior in body movement or by 
throwing bras and panties on the stage and/or tearing off their shirts, 
challenge their constructed role of passivity and domesticity as ideals for 
female behavior. The sexual expressiveness of women signifies a break 
in social control in which patriarchy interprets and limits female social 

From patriarchal cultural hegemony, popular criticism attacks the 
sexual expressiveness in rock lyrics and performance. Some groups attack 
the lyrics through domestic ideology concerning the family and cultural 
decency. Functional analyses interpret sexual lyrics and explicit sexual 


expression in performance by male rockers as simply another example of 
female exploitation. Moreover, functional perspectives interpret body 
language in the performance of male rock stars as just another means of 
reinforcing the norms of patriarchal power. There are a number of 
problems with this perspective. This linear association is a limited and 
somewhat inadequate reading of the text of rock performance and the 
interpreted meaning by the audience. It assumes the female audience to 
be passive "cultural dopes" manipulated by patriarchal ideology to 
identify with rock performance only through the social construction of 

The functional perspective draws from a socially constructed gender 
ideology in which the female audience can only respond to aggressive 
sexual movement and lyrics as passive females. Consideration is not 
given to the complexity in performance messages and the practices of 
active participants as they realize sexual meaning. 

The female audience actively participates in performance in which 
aggressiveness in song and body movement may have a similar empow- 
ering effect on both males and females. The contradictions in gender 
identify in adornment, clothing and movement allow for a multitude of 
meanings or messages of interpretation. Exhibiting sexuality may reflect 
a feeling of control and empowerment by female actors and can under- 
mine and oppose patriarchal constructs of sexual behavior. 31 

Sexual meaning in rock's interpretation needs to be explored from new 
perspectives which avoid reductionist parameters of patriarchal ideals 
that assume male control of audience interpretation. Examining rock's 
heritage in the blues, illuminates the historical continuity of the role of 
sexual boldness in lyrics and performance. Ma Rainey was well known 
for her sexual expressiveness on stage and as Sandra Lieb notes, "In her 
most striking recordings Ma Rainey deals with prostitution, homosexu- 
ality, lesbianism, and sadomasochism." 32 

Whereas performance threatens patriarchal norms of gender identity, 
the denial of rock and roll's musical and historical significance reinforces 
the hierarchal position of the dominant culture. The patriarchy of 
culture is constituted in a hierarchy in which the standards of music 
interpretation are derived from a European classical heritage and this " 
. . .reference determines value." 33 LeRoi Jones commenting on the 
western interpretation of the quality of African- American music states: 


The hoarse, shrill quality of African singers or of their cultural 
progeny, the blues singers, is thus attributed to their lack of 
proper vocal training, instead of to a conscious desire dictated 
by their own culture to produce a prescribed and certainly 
calculated effect . 34 

By describing rock's beat as "earthy" or "crude" the patriarchal struc- 
ture of society maintains control of the western ideology as dominant 

Rock and roll, through its democratic spirit of participation, initially 
had the potential for the integration of black music and performers with 
both black and white audiences and culture. In the 1950s, white 
teenagers "discovered" the sounds of rhythm and blues and were drawn 
to the rock music and performance of Little Richard, Fats Domino, and 
Chuck Berry. Almost immediately a music which had been ignored by 
white America became the focus of anxiety and rejection. 35 The refusal 
of patriarchal America to "accept black music played by black musicians 
according to black definitions" goes beyond the question of music to the 
larger social issue of racial integration which becomes translated into an 
anxiety discourse concerning morality and the corruption of youth. 36 

The question remains as to why rock and roll continues to be 
interpreted in the language of rebellion and threat, thereby removing it 
from serious consideration and analysis on the basis of musical quality 
rather than in social constructs. The control of cultural discourse about 
music preserves the disciplined, segregated conceptualization of cultural 
roots; cultural domination legitimizes Eurocentric interpretation of 
American culture. While black music and cultural performance is 
embodied in rock and roll, the ideology of what constitutes American 
culture serves to set it apart from participation in the dominant culture. 

In Highbrow/Lowbrow, Lawrence Levine discusses extensively how 
the conception of culture in music and performance was transformed and 
redefined in the U.S. during the 19th and 20th centuries. Levine 
suggests that the American elite not only transformed performers to " . 
. .sing the songs of the masters without imposing their own wills . . ." but 
they extended their authority to the audience: 

Their general success in disciplining and training audiences 
constitutes one of those cultural transformations that have 
been almost totally ignored by historians . 37 


Drawing on these observations, my intention has been to explore the 
discourse surrounding culture and rock and roll and to illuminate the 
tensions involved in relation to the patriarchal construction of culture. 

The maintenance of European culture through the segregation of 
music represents larger socio-political issues in which the construction of 
difference enforces and sustains the elite culture of patriarchy. The 
recognition of rock as a cultural musical form would legitimize it as an 
American musical tradition which would allow it to be compared and 
evaluated on equal musical terms with Eurocentric classical music. That 
is, rock music would cease to be "the other" or the product of cultural 

Legitimizing rock's African- American roots would signify the contri- 
bution of African- Americans to American culture. African- American 
culture could be recognized for its distinctiveness as well as its critical 
contribution the totality of culture. As importantly, it would allow for 
avenues by which to recognize the particular contribution of black 
women to American music. This would establish historical continuity 
and an understanding of cultural exchange. 

However, the interpretation of American culture remains fixed in the 
reflection from European traditions. Thereby, elements of American 
culture which do not replicate Eurocentric standards are interpreted as 
cultural deterioration. The patriarchal construction of culture essentializes 
and maintains class, racial and gender division. 38 Socially constructed 
notions of gender and sexuality are embodied in patriarchal conventions 
which interpret both cultural performance and audience response. 

Social scientists studying culture need to explore meaning in Ameri- 
can culture and challenge monolithic models which focus on culture as 
an object of study rather than as a problematic construct. Culture is a site 
of conflict in which patriarchal institutions seek to control and maintain 
the elitism of cultural heritage. It is assumed often that culture is a neutral 
entity in which everyone has equal access to cultural discourse but there 
is a connection between culture and politics. 39 Social hierarchies are 
constituted in description and cultural discourse can serve as legitimization 
for maintaining relations of dominance and notions of "Otherness." 



1 For a general discussion of theories of culture see: R. Keesing, "Theories of Culture"; 
S. Ortner, "Theory in Anthropology since the Sixties"; R. Wuthnow, J. Hunter, A. 
Bergesen, and E. Kurzweil, Cultural Analysis. See: E. Wolf, Europe and the People Without 
a History for a discussion of the historical interconnectedness of societies and the political 
economic approach to studying culture. For insight on questions about the totalizing 
concept of culture see, Jane K. Cowan, Dance and the Body Politic in Northern Greece (1990). 
For a discussion of anthropology's shift in focus from small scale societies to complex 
societies in which the focus remains on narrow units of study see Valentine (1968: 101- 
102). Valentine provides examples of subculture studies and the inherent problems with 
this mode of inquiry. See: Mintz (1985: xxvi-xxvii) for anthropology's method in studying 
"modern" society. Chandra Mukerji and Michal Schudson review anthropological studies 
in popular culture. See the "Introduction:" in Rethinking Popular Culture (1991). 

2 DickHebdige, Subculture: The Meaning of Style (1989:76). 

3 See: J. Clifford and G. Marcus Writing Culture for an elaboration of the construction 
of ethnographic texts. Geertz in Works and Lives questions anthropology's ability to 
construct culture and discusses the subjectivity of ethnographic texts. Also, see: S. Ortner 
(1987:1-9) for a discussion of the contradictions in cultural analysis. For issues surround- 
ing writing in a culture of domination and a critique of the lack of non-white scholars in 
Clifford and Marcus' analysis, see: Bell Hooks, Yearning: Race, Gender, and Cultural 
Politics, specifically pp. 123-133. 

4 The "literary" approaches to history explore popular culture and uncover the actual 
historical experiences of individuals as well as rendering the limits of their lives (Davis 
1983; Ginzburg 1982; Ladiirie 1979; Levine 1977; Williams 1983). Departing from the 
narrowly construed definitions of culture, authors such as Ginzburg (1982), remove 
"popular culture" from the realm of idealogy and situate it in the class relations of historical 
discourse. For anthropology the narrative histories are influential examples of text which 
expand the study of popular culture. 

5 The discourse of ethnography informs us concerning both the author and the subject. 
A primary concern of postmodern anthropologists it the method by which anthropologists 
"have conceptually constructed their subjects" (Marcus and Fischer 1986:86). See Marcus 
and Cushman, "Ethnographies as Texts" (1982) for a review of the development of this 
perspective in the anthropology. In his essay "What Is an Author?" Michel Foucault raises 
some interesting questions about authorship and power. See, Michel Foucault, Language, 
Counter-Memory, Practice (1988:1 13-138). Clifford Geertz explores the anthropologist as 
author in Works and Lives (1988). 

6 Lawrence Grossberg, "Is There Rock After Punk?" (1990:1 14). 

7 Quoted in Lawrence Levin, Highbrow/Lowbrow (1988:250). 

8 It should be noted that there is debate concerning the commercialization of rock 
music in relation to its roots and ability to raise political consciousness and resistance. 
Much of the debate centers around whether the rock audience is an active agent or a passive 
respondent to commercial messages. I suggest that commercialization and resistance are 
not mutually exclusive. Like all forms of culture, popular culture is in a constant flux in 


which articulations of power and individual expression are played out and negotiated in 
participation. For an extensive account of rock music as a form of resistance to dominant 
culture and political ideology in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union see, Timothy 
Ryback, Rock Around the Bloc (1990). Also see, George Nelson, The Death of Rhythm & 
Blues (1989) on crossover marketing and the commercialization of rhythm and blues. 

9 For a review of some of the major approaches see, Rethinking Popular Culture (1991) 
edited by Chandra Mukerji and Michael Schudson; Deena Weinstein, "The Sociology of 
Rock: An Undisciplined Discipline" a review article in Theory Culture & Society (1991). 

10 For a discussion of the contradictions in this descriptions and the "deconstruction 
of youth" see: Grossberg, "Is There Rock After Punk?" (1990). 

11 Lawrence Levine, Highbrow/Lowbrow (1988:252). 

12 William Barlow, Looking Up At Down (1989); LeRoi Jones, Blues People (1963); 
Eileen Southern, The Music of Black Americans. 

13 LeRoi Jones, Blues People (1963:17). 

14 Angela Davis, "Black Women and Music" (1990:12). 

15 George Lipsitz, Time Passages (1990:117). Nicholas Lemann writes in The Promised 
Land (1990:6-7) that the mechanization of cotton-picking resulted in "agricultural 
displacement" in which approximately five million black Americans moved from the South 
to the North after 1940. 

16 Cleveland disc jockey Alan Freed is given credit for introducing the term "rock and 
roll" in 1951 (Southern 1971:505). For a discussion ofthe borrowing ofthe term "rock and 
roll" from black music and its implications see: Nelson George (1989:66-67 & 91). 

17 Lipsitz, Time Passages (1990:17-18). LeRoi Jones (Amiri Baraka) (1963:97) notes 
that the Ford Motor Company was one of the first companies to hire blacks and 
correspondingly there are many blues songs written about Ford. (Amiri Baraka used the 
name, LeRoi Jones, at the time he wrote Blues People.) 

18 Barlow, Looking Up AT Down, (1989:45-50); Greil Marcus, Mystery Train 
(1990:19-35); Alan Wells, "Popular Music: Emotional Use andManagement"(1990:105- 
117). Over fifty years since his death, the cover of Musician (January 1991) proclaimed, 
"Robert Johnson: The Father of Rock 8c Roll" with tributes from Keith Richards and 
Robert Plant. 

19 For a discussion ofthe growth of rhythm and blues see: LeRoi Jones ( 1 963 : 1 70-1 74). 
The term rhythm and blues originated in the 1940s and for an extensive discussion ofthe 
music and culture of rhythm and blues see: Nelson George, The Death of Rhythm & Blues. 

20 Jones, Blues People (1963:26-27). 

21 "The legions of folk musicians and songsters who created and sustained the blues 
in their infancy were African-American variations on the famous West African "griot" 
tradition. The griots were talented musicians and folklorists designated to be the oral 
carriers of their people's culture . . .Griots preserved the history, traditions, and mores of 
their respective tribes and kinship groups through songs and stories. They composed songs 
and praise 


22 Jones (1963:26 & 82); Lipsitz (1990:110). 

23 William Ferris, Blues From theDelta (1984); Jones, Blues People (1963); Souther, T&> 
Maw of Black Americans (1971). 

24 Lipsitz, 77wz<? Passages ( 1 990: 1 10) . 

25 John Wells, "Me and the Devil Blues: A Study of Robert Johnson and the Music 
of the Rolling Stones" (1989:161); This tradition can be traced to Classic Blues women 
singers such as Ma Rainey, "Ma liked to moan along with a song during the breaks in the 
lyrics. She also used slurs and glissandos to emphasize her blue notes, much like the early 
rural blues singers" Barlow, Looking Up at Down (1989:157). 

26 See Greil Marcus, Mystery Train (1990:4-6). Lawrence Levine in Highbrow/ 
Lowbrow (1988) discusses the audience as participants during the 19th century. Levine 
argues that, during the nineteenth century, there was a shared public culture in which 
audiences participated in performance. He elaborates on how the meaning of culture was 
transformed in 20th century American resulting in disciplined performers and audience. 

27 Heidi Hartman (1976:139) defines patriarchy as "the system of male oppression of 
women." Hartmann argues that, in capitalist society, job segregation by sex is the primary 
mechanism by which men maintain dominance over women. Also see: Zillah Eisenstein, 
Capitalism Patriarchy and the Case for Socialist Feminism; Nancy Folbre "Patriarchy in 
Colonial New England" and "Exploitation Comes Home: A Critique of Marxian Theory 
of Family Labour." 

The concept of patriarchy has been most often discussed as a system grounded in the 
material base or the economic system of society. I suggest that patriarchy is embedded in 
cultural meaning and can be culturally reproduced, maintained or challenged by both men 
and women. However, it is the dominant culture (primarily white and male) which 
benefits the most from the maintenance of patriarchal structure. A broader cultural 
context for defining patriarchy also includes the social relations of class and race. 

28 "Nice Boys." Guns N' Roses, GISTR Lies. Produced by Guns N' Roses. The David 
Geffen Company, 1986. 

29 The female pop icon and singer, Madonna, has captured the essence of these cultural 
gender contradictions in her performance. She sues the drama of performance to question 
domination and submission and her stage presence challenges patriarchal cultural domi- 
nation. It is this sense of empowerment, challenge, and control in Madonna's perfor- 
mances which contributes to her following of young teenage women. There is extensive 
discussion of meaning in Madonna's text. See. Lynne Layton (1990) "What's Madonna 
Teaching Us?"; John Fiske (1989:95-113) "Madonna." 

30 Barlow, Looking Up at Down (1989:157). 

31 For a discussion of rock music and sexuality as well as challenges to the idea of the 
passive female rock fan see the following essays in On Record edited bv Simon Frith and 
Andrew Goodwin (1990): S. Frith and A. McRobbie, "Rock and Sexuality"; Sue Wise, 
"Sexing Elvis." For a discussion of the antidomesticity of rock and roll see: Grossberg 


32 S&ndia.L'ieb,MotheroftheBlues:AStudyofMaRainey(199l:171);In u Bhck Women 
and Music: A Historical Legacy of Struggle" Angela Davis explores the manner in which 
Ma Rainey's music and performance illuminates the experience of Black women's lives. 
More research needs to be done to establish the contribution of the women blues 
performers to rock and roll music and performance. 

33 Jones, Blues People (1963:17). 

34 Jones, Blues People (1963:29-30). 

35 It was at this time that numbers of "clean cut" white performers were employed to 
create sanitized "rock and roll." Although this aspect of rock and roll has been discussed 
extensively, see Nelson George, The Death of Rhythm and Blues for a broad understanding 
of the issues. Portia Maultsby (1989:171) discusses how whites protested the playing and 
buying of black records. 

36 See, Portia Maultsby, "Soul Music: Its Sociological and Political Significance in 
American Popular Culture" (1983:170-171). 

37 Levine, Highbrow/Lowbrow (1988:184). 

38 For discussion of cultural hegemony in relation to race and gender see: Bell Hooks, 
Yearning: Race, Gender, and Cultural Politics. In Invisibility Blues, Michel Wallace discusses 
cultural criticisms and its relationship to black feminism. Of particular interest is her 
discussion of cultural interpretation and critique of cultural production by black individu- 
als. See: "Michael Jackson, Black Modernisms and 'The Ecstasy of Communication'" Pp. 

39 For an extensive discussion of the political significance of rock music in the Soviet 
Union and Eastern Europe see: Rock Around the Block by Timothy W. Ryback. For a 
discussion of "official" culture and politics see: Vaclav Havel, "Six Asides About Culture." 


Meddling in Metal Music 

Dennis D. Phillips 

A reformation of sorts took place in the music industry during the 
1980s. Cassettes and compact disks replaced vinyl and added a personal 
portability of music that superseded radio. Dave DiMartino, writing in 
Billboard magazine, noted that "the CD allowed companies to rake in the 
bucks on product that, in some cases, was one step away from actually 
being deleted." 1 Music television gave a look to the sound. Numerous 
writers in the popular press even attributed to music television the credit 
for revitalizing the music industry ? Systematic study of chart perfor- 
mance and record sales identified a role of music television in creating a 
"superstar phenomenon" 3 of the 80s, but tempered the influence of 
music television as a sole impetus for music revitalization . 4 Nevertheless, 
artists like Madonna, Bruce Springsteen, Duran, Duran, Prince, Janet 
Jackson, Paula Abdul, and Def Leppard attained mainstream music 
superstardom, boosted, probably in some measured, by their videos. The 
talent and video production value of Michael Jackson "confirmed once 
and for all the sales potential of black music," 5 Finally, by the end of the 
decade of the 80s, heavy metal became the fastest selling video music 
category 6 and the biggest seller of all recorded music genres. 7 

This work has three goals. First, to refine a working definition for 
heavy metal that delineates the genre through means other than chords 
and musical progressions by drawing upon the popular and scholarly 
literature as well as questionnaires and personal interviews with 177 
adolescent and college age people. The data is then discussed in terms 
of perceptions of heavy metal music and its performers. Second, to trace 
the historical development of heavy metal music, with special consider- 
ation given to Billboard chart performance and music video exposure. 
Finally, to explore some primary gratifications associated with the 
audience of heavy metal music and establish some perspectives for those 
vilifying its use. 

In discussing popular music, R. Serge Denisoff concluded that it has 
never been "monolithically standard with all young people," 8 and 
referred to it as "a cultural artifact shared by specific subgroups in the 
social order. Music may represent the taste of a subculture within a 
culture or that of a counterculture that exists in opposition to the 
dominant one." 9 In the 80s, the popular music tastes seemed especially 
splintered. And the splintering, perhaps working within the nexus that 
included music video, resulted in a mainstreaming of sub -cultural genres, 
one of which was heavy metal. Perhaps partly as a result of its newfound 


popularity, heavy metal bore the brunt of much of the critical wrath 
leveled against music lyrics and their potential impact on youth behavior. 
Critics and scholars have offered some contradictory conclusions 
about what constitutes heavy metal music. Sociologists Paul Verden, 
Kathleen Dunleavy, and Charles H. Powers used the following explana- 
tion as a basis for researching the relationship between heavy metal music 
and adolescent delinquency: 

Heavy metal tunes are structured around a minimal set of 
crashing guitar chords. Vocals are of secondary importance . 
. . Such bands rely on high decibel levels and ostentatious 
showmanship . . . The heavy metal experience, then, derives 
from the performance, the bombastic sound of the music, and 
lyrical content in descending order of importance. 10 

Thorn Gencarelli has concluded that heavy metal even in its most 
generic form "has always been a fairly primitive, rudimentary form of 

Writers in the popular press have extended the discussion to include 
show and conquest. David Gans offered the following in Record: 

Metal is nominally a style of music, but music is virtually 
beside the point. What's important is that the performers, 
staging, graphics, and sound be as vile, repellent and loud as 
possible. 12 

Writing in Rolling Stone, Anthony Decurtis suggested that the defin- 
ing factors of the genre include the attitude and the look of the artists. 13 
Others have suggested "there's no message to heavy metal. It's about 
being rich and famous and getting laid." 14 Heavy metal is "an apolitical 
sound more concerned with the conquest of women that the triumph of 
the spirit." 15 People "play heavy-metal music and have a good time." 16 

In contrast, sociologists Jonathon S. Epstein and David J. Pratto, 
when discussing lyrical themes and subject matter in heavy metal music, 
concluded that "... the overarching theme is alienation and concern for 
the world that youth will inherit." 17 They presented the following among 
the most common subjects dealt with in the music: environmental issues, 
the dangers of substance abuse, and corruption in government. The same 


authors interviewed Geoff Tate of the heavy metal band Queensryche 
and offered his comments to further support the importance of lyrics and 
ideas in heavy metal music: 

[A]bout a year into the [1st] tour people I'd meet backstage 
who had really listened to the record and already had an 
interest in politics started to get into it more . . .[I]t effected 
them in that it made them curious about things and it made 
them read books and look into it, maybe watch the news for 
the first time to find out what was going on. 18 

More recently, heavy metal has developed some sub-genres of its own 
which further complicates the attempt to define the music. Neo-metal 
seems to be the direction taken by some groups, and the result is a more 
mainstream sound, conducive to radio airplay. Rudy Sarro of Quiet Riot: 
"We're melodic. We play melodic songs very loud.'" 19 Herman Rarebell 
of The Scorpions: '"We have melody and not just hard, crashing, rattling 
guitars all the time.'" 20 

"Thrash," "speed," "black," "Satanic," and "death" metal have devel- 
oped also as other sub-genres. Acoustically and lyrically they are heavier 
and more violent than those descriptions noted above, in the sense that 
their words and phrases involve violence, horror, and death. Gencarelli 
evolved his heavy metal discussion into an exploration of the death metal 

They are filled with dire, negative imagery: death, destruc- 
tion, despair, pain, war, nuclear holocaust, and just plain gore. 
. . . You really can't expect the lyrics to this music to be about 
much else. . . . The juxtaposition simply wouldn't make 

The literature is full of inconsistences and presented immediate 
questions: How does the record buying public, specifically those in the 
stereotypic metal fan age demographic, conceptualize metal? Are 
dimensions of definition provided by critics and scholars confirmed, or 
are they stereotypical to the point of missing some of the allure of the 
genre? Do fans and non-fans define it in the same way? 


In an attempt to provide preliminary answers to the above questions, 
this author submitted written questionnaires to 645 junior high students, 
36 high school students, and 77 college undergraduates. (A copy of the 
questionnaire is included as Appendix A.) As a follow up, personal 
interviews were conducted with 7 high school students and 15 of the 
college sample. The written questionnaire served as the basis for the 
interviews, but probes and follow-ups were used to ascertain additional 
detail. In addition to assessing definitional aspects of heavy metal music, 
the surveys provided the means for broadening the exploration. Ques- 
tions also addressed perceived differences between those that liked the 
music and those that did not and preliminary gratifications associated 
with its use. 

In some respects, explanations of heavy metal music offered earlier 
were confirmed by the respondents. The majority of the youth ques- 
tioned (112 out of 177) identified it as loud or distorted and relying 
heavily on screaming guitars and screaming vocals (93). Fast was an 
important part of the description for 34 respondents, and some reference 
was made to the beat or bass or sound as being "heavy," "hard," or "harsh" 
by 21 people. The stereotypical reference to heavy metal as head banging 
music showed up among numerous responses (14) with the indication 
that heavy metal "has no beat to dance to, but rather requires that you just 
bang your head on a wall." Little comment was offered regarding sub- 
genres of heavy metal. Seven respondents mentioned "thrash" or 
"Thrashing" in their descriptions, but, even in the personal interviews, 
this sample seemed largely unable to make clear distinctions between 
different types of heavy metal, except in referenced to specific groups. 
Without specific statistical manipulation, there seemed no substantial 
difference between respondents in junior high, high school, or college in 
their conception of heavy metal music. 

There was a substantial difference, however, in the explanation of 
heavy metal music from those who liked it vs. those who did not or those 
who expressed a neutrality toward it. From the sample of 177, only 18 
(eight junior high, 6 high school, 4 college ) indicated that they liked 
heavy metal. However, those that did offered additional insights into the 
genre. Junior high respondents who liked it characterized it by saying, 
"it rocks," "exciting," "different," and "fun." One junior high respondent 
said he liked the lyrics. At the high school and college level, lyrics (in 
combination with loudness and screaming guitars) represented the factor 


most important as a distinguishing characteristic of the genre. "Lyrics 
have meaning (usually, social, sometimes political)." "They [specifically 
referring to Iron Maiden] sing about the plight of the American Indian 
and history." Metallica, for one, addresses "mentally stimulating subjects 
like governmental corruption and drug abuse." "heavy metal performers 
care about lyrics (sometimes social statements or just for fun)." "Heavy 
metal has songs with meaning." 

Two factors make the above comments especially noteworthy. First, 
a majority of respondents (44) who expressed a dislike for the music said 
the inability to hear or understand lyrics represented part of the defini- 
tion of heavy metal music. Second, many of the same people that said 
they could not hear or understand the lyrics said they disliked particular 
heavy metal groups because they play "Satanic, bad music"; "They are 
satanic"; "they sound satanic"; "their lyrics are horrible"; and one respon- 
dent, in identifying Judas Priest as a group that she especially disliked, 
said the reason for her abhorrence was the "you can't understand their 
words, and they support satan." Probing failed to provide real clarifica- 
tion for the seeming contradiction, except that the stereotype of heavy 
metal most likely influenced the perceptions of it. Indeed, stereotyping 
of the genre seems particularly likely here and represents a major 
limitation of the sample in that all of the respondents were drawn from 
mainstream school systems in a societally conservative area of the 
country. Fort Collins, Colorado, is rarely (never?) mentioned as being on 
the cutting edge of liberal music trends, even though there is a progressive 
rock station that ranks number one with the college audience in the city, 
and the public radio station does air from midnight to 2 AM nightly a 
program called "Radio Zero" which is definitely alternative music. The 
stereotyping potential may be particularly relevant, if not to the defini- 
tion, at least to the discussion involving the genre. 

Another question asked people to distinguish between heavy metal 
and hard rock. Heavy metal fans offered: "heavy metal performers care 
about lyrics whereas hard rock performers care only about make-up, 
women, and money." "Metal performers emphasize their music where 
hard rock performers emphasize their looks and reputations." "Hard 
rockers look neater." "Hard rock is commercialized." In this distinction, 
anti-heavy metalists made similar comments except without reference to 
lyrics and meanings. "Heavy metal is ruder, cruder, and the image of the 
performs is dirty." "hard rock is more polished.' "Hard rock performers 


try for more sex appeal." "Hard rock has a more clearly defined beat." 
"Heavy metal is louder." "You can understand the words in hard rock." 

In personal interviews, four different people said the difference 
between heavy metal and hard rock depends on how you define them. 
When asked if they would define them in their own way, they offered 
definition by example, noting that Iron Maiden, Grim Reaper, Anthrax, 
and Metallica were definitely metal, but Rush was not heavy metal; 
neither were Loverboy or Supertramp. Bon Jovi depends, and so do 
KISS and AC/DC. 

Respondents offered few non-solicited insights on showmanship as a 
delineating factor of heavy metal. Instead, they offered that it was as 
important to hard-rockers. In virtually all of the heavy metal genres, long 
hair seems a prerequisite and pretension is abhorred. Further, in its anti- 
societal simplicity, shirts with grotesque artwork seem part of the 
definition 22 as does the grotesque artwork on album/CD covers. But to 
both heavy metal artists and hard rockers, image was important. 

Elements of the original explanation from the Verden, Dunleavy, and 
Powers work seem to be strengthened by the responses offered by the 
current sample. However, the factors involving lyrics and content 
themes continue to confound the issue. Within the universal factor of 
loudness, this study suggests that other defining factors of heavy metal 
depend on whether one likes it (and perhaps understands it) or not. 

For whatever reason, heavy metal has become an important musical 
genre. Jonathon S. Epstein and David J. Pratto in setting up their 
examination of the relationship of heavy metal and adolescent delin- 
quency summarized: 

On the average Heavy Metal records have accounted for 20% 
of Rolling Stone magazine's 'Top Fifty Albums' charts in 1989 
and have outsold all other genres combines. 23 

An historical review of the music, including a discussion of its 
presence on MTV, explains its rise to the mainstream. 

Most music historians trace the origins of heavy metal to the late 60s 
as one of the styles that splintered off rock 'n roll in the 70s. Led Zeppelin 
is generally considered one of the early influences in the genre. Parke 
Puterbaugh, in his review of top albums for the 70s, noted that Led 
Zeppelin's album "In Through the out Door" was number sixteen in the 


amount of time at Number One on the Billboard albums charts for the 
decade. 24 Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, UFO, and even KISS were other 
groups that contributed to the metal attractions of the 70s. Despite some 
commercial success, especially in album sales, heavy metal remained 
largely an anti-status quo underground phenomenon until the early 80s, 
when, in a reaction to punk rock, metal artists and fans reincarnated an 
"attitude" and took on references of optimism instead of destruction. 
Pop-music critic J.D. Considine summarized the phenomenon in his 
expose of heavy metal for Rolling Stone: 

Sure, life sucked, the music seemed to say, but that's not the 
whole story. Above all, metal reminded its listeners that, good 
times, or bad, the bands and the fans were all in it together . 
. . a comforting solidarity in the face of adolescent alienation 
and middle-class ennui. 25 

The optimism evolved into feelings of dislocation, terror, and excite- 
ment: "... that heavy metal not only spoke to the simmering discontent 
its listeners felt but provided an alternative source of personal pride and 
cultural identity." 26 

Throughout the 80s the genre became more mainstream. According 
to Considine, "radio deserves some of the credit for bringing the music's 
kick-ass attitude into the mainstream . . .; likewise, MTV lent this music 
new urgency." 27 Indeed, in a recent telephone survey conducted by Radio 
and Records, MTV ranked first among metal-lovers as the source from 
which they learned about new heavy metal bands. 28 The match between 
heavy metal and music television seems a particularly good one. To the 
extent that looks, showmanship, and attitude reflect key components of 
heavy metal, it is to the same extent that television should be a positive 
correlate. These dimensions could be captured on the video medium. 

Therefore, considering groups that are loud with a heavy reliance on 
guitar and attitude/irreverence in performance, and/or considering groups 
referenced in any issued of Billboard or Radio and Records as heavy metal, 
this author identified their presence on the Billboard 'Top 100 singles 
charts and the BillboardPop Album charts, specifically the first Billboard 
issue in January and the first issue in July for the years 1 982 through 1988. 
Beginning in 1983, when MTV playlists were available, the presence of 


metal artist were also sought there. (See Appendix B for a list of those 
artists identified here as heavy metal for the discussion below.) 

In January, 1982, five months after the debut of MTV, no heavy metal 
group appeared in the top 40 singles chart, and only KISS appeared in 
the top 100. On the album chart, Ozzy Osbourne and Black Sabbath 
were both in the top 40, and 7 other metal groups appeared in the top 100, 
with AC/DC charting three different albums, including "For Those 
About to Rock" at number 1. In the following two years, MTV initiated 
"Heavy Metal Heroes," and by January, 1984, five metal groups were in 
the regular MTV rotation. Still, the presence of such groups had not 
increased in the charts (three metal singles in the top 100; 7 albums in the 
top 100). Denisoff affirmed that later in 1984 only three metal groups 
appeared in the top 30. 29 However, Denisoff also pointed out that about 
this time metal groups were changing, and he chose to call the new, more 
mainstream music of the heavy metal groups as neo-metal. He quoted 
Robin Crosby of Ratt: 

Old heavy metal is boring, I know because we used to be into 
it. But we dropped that heavy-metal look and all the bondage 
gear. What we're really after is a mass audience. 30 

Denisoff identified other groups as moving in the same direction. 
That audiences might have recognized the change as mass appeal seems 
to be confirmed in the charts in 1986, 1987, and 1988. Metal (perhaps 
some or all of which could better be called neo-metal) became an 
important component of MTV. The Scorpions, RATT, Grim Reaper, 
Twisted Sister, Bon Jovi, Motley Crue, Cinderella, Iron Maiden, Poi- 
son, Quiet Riot, Megadeth, W.A.S.P., and Stryper were among the 
groups that were in rotation. "Head Bangers Ball" became a regular 
programming component of MTV, and "Dial-MTV" always featured 
metal groups as predominant. This metal prominence of MTV was 
matched to some extent by popular chart performance of the metal 
groups, at least in the albums chart. In fact, on June 13, 1987, five of the 
top 6 albums were by metal bands, including Motley Crue which debuted 
that week at number 5. 

Billboard columnists identified a record dollar volume for the record 
industry in 1987, 31 but pointed out that only heavy metal and country 


recorded gains in gold and platinum record certifications. 32 Extending 
to video, 

Heavy metal is one of the few retail success stories for music 
video. . . . 'Heavy metal is by far the most consistent and 
quickest-selling video music category. 33 

By July 2, 1988, 11 singles by metal groups and 14 albums were in the 
top 100. As reported in Billboard, Def Leppard's "Hysteria" topped 8 
million in U.S. Sales in November, 1988. In the same month, Bon Jovi 
had the first metal album certified gold, platinum, double platinum, and 
triple platinum simultaneously. Aerosmith, Poison, and Cinderella all 
had certified multiplatinum albums, and Megadeth certified gold. 34 
During the same month, 15 of 76 selections in regular MTV rotation 
were heavy metal. Radio and Records reported an unprecedented 9 metal 
albums in the top 80 of the 80s. 35 Outwardly, the correlation between 
MTV airplay of heavy metal and the chart performance (and record sales) 
of the genre seems quite strong. It may be that MTVs strongest 
influence on the music of the 80s was not revitalizing the record industry, 
but perhaps in mainstreaming particular genres, of which heavy metal is 

With the popularity came the criticism. The PMRC was most vocal 
in assailing music lyrics and targeting heavy metal. The resulting 
voluntary music labeling has subdued the protest, but the evidence has 
not to this point warranted the criticism, except as a result of anecdotal 
references and isolated incidences. Results have been inconsistent in the 
determination of how well adolescents recall lyrics, whether or not lyrics 
are considered an important reason for liking a selection, and whether or 
not they influence behavior. 36 In their analysis of music and juvenile 
delinquency, Verden, Dunleavy, and Powers concluded: 

the findings support an interpretation of the function of 
popular music in relation to its audience(s) best described as 
a process similar to the two-step flow model . . . wherein 
national and inter- national performers convey images, styles, 
role and cultural norms through the media. These are, in turn, 
selectively received and interpreted by various taste publics in 
ways that are congruent with ongoing group norms, ideolo- 


gies and myths. This process is capable of producing impres- 
sions of youth as well as expressions of youth. A confusion of 
one for the other does not serve reason. It invites mania. 37 

One cannot help but wonder if the cause of concern for the protestors 
(and people who do not like the genre) is the attitude reflected by 
performance or the stereotype read into a group's message from those 
who say they cannot understand the words. 

The historical development of heavy metal music has addressed its 
increasing popularity and its detractors. Still, the question remains as to 
who likes it and why. The final area of discussion in this work reviews 
and expands on the heavy metal audience. Denisoff concludes that 
"MTVs exposure of neo-heavy metal bands has appeal to a white-male, 

under-21 demographic especially to frustrated male working class 

rage.'" 38 The core audience for heavy metal is working class whites — a 
constituency that is "typically not given much credit for being able to tell 
the difference between the dramatic situation in a song and the realities 
of their own lives." 39 Middle school students outside the mainstream in 
North Carolina "without exception" chose heavy metal music in their 
activity time. 40 For students in a non-traditional high school and those 
designated as emotionally/behaviorally disturbed, "the musical format 
they preferred to listen to was 'heavy metal.'" 41 Wells and Hakanen noted 
the lack of middle ground concerning attitude about heavy metal. They 
ranked it as the second most popular music genre among adolescents 
(behind "rock") but also ranked it as the second most disliked genre 
(behind "new wave"). 42 

Of the 1 77 respondents in this study, 1 8 really liked it, 49 were neutral, 
and 110 really disliked it. Four of those who really liked it were college 
undergrads, three of those four were female, and three of the four at 
GPAs above 3.3. Out of the 14 junior high and high school students who 
said they liked heavy metal, 11 were male. Seven had GPAs above 3.0. 

When asked to identify someone that they know that liked heavy 
metal and to provide information about that person, the following profile 
emerged: male, 17 years old, average (or a little above) as a student, 
knowledgeable about music, and tending to spend a lot more time 
listening to music than most people, perhaps even to the exclusion of 
social activity. This question was not asked to junior high respondents. 


But, of the 36 high schoolers, 22 offered answers, and 19 of them said 
males, while of the 77 college students, 61 answered and 54 of them said 
male. In all cases, the fan identified was between the ages of 13 and 24. 
Not all respondents offered that the metal fan was a good student. 
Indeed, the student dimension of this answer ran the gamut from "my 
brother who dropped out of school in ninth grade" to a "fraternity brother 
who is member of the National Honor Society with a GPA of near 4.0." 
However, in contrast to much stereotype, the metal fans are not neces- 
sarily poor students. In addition, nine were characterized as "closet 
bangers," who do not represent the stereotypical heavy metal image in 
their day-to-day rituals of dress and behavior. 

Virtually everyone identified as a heavy metal fan was also identified 
as a person who spends a lot of time with music. In many cases, the 
reference was made to the fan as a person who plays an instrument or 
understands music to the point of being more involved with intricate 
analysis of it, even to the point of excluding themselves from other social 
activity. Numerous studies have identified the role of music in the 
socialization process, concluding among other things that music simi- 
larities serve as the bases of friendships and shared values. 43 One surface 
implication of the current results is that heavy metal music might form 
for the anti-social or introverted personality the substitute for friendship. 
It also seems plausible that it serves for its fans as a source of values and 
social learning. These areas deserve additional study as they involve all 
genres of music, but, to the extent that the above profile of the metal lover 
is correct, particularly for heavy metal. In at least a vague way, the current 
results point to more consideration of ethnographic approaches to 
research in the area and a renewed consideration for accommodation 
theory and social action perspectives. 44 

The current analysis of the definition, the historical development, and 
the audience of heavy metal (despite its limitations of sample and its 
exploratory ramblings) suggests that rebellion and categorizations of 
counter-cultural hedonism or satanism associated with the music are too 
simplistic or even irrelevant. Indeed, its roles as a positive and negative 
variable in socialization and as a victim of, in addition to a villain in, 
stereotyping seem especially fruitful for additional analyses. Textual 
analyses of lyrical messages and themes in different heaw metal selec- 
tions seems imperative. Comparisons of musical preferences, uses, and 
life characteristics among youth in their developmental stages might also 


be useful. And an assessment of content and other differences and 
similarities in heavy metal and neo- metal would seem valuable for 
historical purposes, and for discerning whether or not these differences 
impacted selection for radio playlists. 

Unfortunately, the current work has raised more questions than it has 
answered. Hopefully, the assimilation of old and new information, albeit 
some of it contradictory, can serve to stimulate more systematic inquiry. 

Appendix A 

Much recent controversy has centered on music, music lyrics, and the 
effect of music on people, especially young people. One of the genres of 
music getting mostly negative comment is "heavy metal" music. How- 
ever, it seems that there is major difficulty in defining heavy metal and 
in determining who really likes it and listens to it. By answering the 
following questions, you can be a major help in clarifying perceptions 
regarding heavy metal music. Thank you for your time and for the honest 
answers to the following questions. 

1 . How would you define/describe "heavy metal" music? 

2. What is the difference between heavy metal music and hard rock? 


3. Name a heavy metal artist/group. 

4. What is the difference between heavy metal performers and hard 
rock performers? 

5 . Think of someone you know (it could be yourself) who likes/listens 
to heavy metal. Tell me about that person: age; sex; occupation/student; 
good student/not so good student; likes/dislikes; plays musical instru- 
ment; etc. If you don't know anyone who likes heavy metal, leave this 
answer blank. 

6. Circle the number below that best describes your personal attitude 
toward heavy metal music in general: 

Hate It Neutral Love It 

12 3 4 5 6 7 

7. Is there one heavy metal artist/group that you especially like? Who? 


8. Is there one heavy metal artist/group that you especially dislike? 
Who? Why? 

9. Your anonymity will always be maintained. However, it is often 
helpful to be able to analyze answers with consideration for different 
groupings of people. If you are comfortable in doing so, please tell me 
a couple of things about yourself: 

A. Age 

B. Sex 

C. Hometown 

D. Grade point average 

E. Year in school 


Appendix B 

Heavy Metal Groups Appearing in Charts and Video Playlists 

Alice Cooper 
Billy Idol 
Black Sabbath 
Bon Jovi 
Def Leppard 
Grim Reaper 
Guns and Roses 

Iron Maiden 

Judas Priest 

Kick Axe 



Led Zeppelin 



Molly Hatchet 

Motley Crue 

Ozzy Osbourne 



Quiet Riot 

Twisted Sister 
Uriah Heep 
Van Halen 
White Lion 


1 Dave DiMartino, "Decalog," Billboard (December 23, 1989), D-8. 

2 R. Serge Denisoff, Inside MTV (New Brunswick: Transaction Books, 1989), 2; 
Lenny Beer, "On Records," HITS (January 26, 2989), 12, "A Year for Records," Fortune 
(April 1, 1985), 10. 

3 Dennis D. Phillips and Tim Schlattmann, "Strip Mining for Gold and Platinum: 
Record Sales and Chart Performance Pre- and Post-MTV," Popular Music and Society 
(Spring, 1990), 85-95. 

4 Tim Schlattmann and Dennis D. Phillips, "MTV and the New Artist: Bullet, 
Breaker, or Bust," Paper presented to Popular Culture Association Conference, Toronto, 
Canada, March, 1990; currendy in press for Popular Music and Society. 

5 Paul Grein, "The Decade in Charts," Billboard (December 23, 1989), D-6. 

6 Jim Bessman, "Heavy Metal Video Sales Gain," Billboard (January 10, 1987), 38-39. 

7 Jonathon S. Epstein and David J. Pratto, "Heavy Metal Rock Music Juvenile 
Delinquency and Satanic Identification," Popular Music and Society (Winter, 1990), 67. 

8 R. Serge Denisoff, Tarnished Gold: The Record Industry Revisited (New Brunswick, 
NJ: Transaction Books, 1986), 23. 

9 Ibid. 



10 Paul Verden, Kathleen Dunleavy, and Charles H. Powers, "Heavy Metal Mania and 
Adolescent Delinquency," Popular Music and Society (Spring, 1989), 73-82. 

11 Thorn Gencarelli, "'Notes From the Underground': The 'Death' Metal Audience as 
Interpretive Community," Paper presented to the Popular Culture Association Confer- 
ence, Toronto, Canada, March, 1990. 

12 David Gans, "Twisted Logic (I'd Sat Severely Bent)," Record (December 1984), 37. 

13 Anthony DeCurtis, "The Eighties," Rolling Stone (November 15, 1990), 62. 

14 Richard Corliss, "X Rated," Time (May 7, 1990), 94. 

15 Marc Eliot, Rockonomics (New York: Franklin Watts, 1989), 247-248. 

16 J. D. Considine, "Metal Mania," Rolling Stone (November 15, 1990), 104. 

17 Epstein and Pratto, 74. 

18 Ibid. 

19 Denisoff, Gold, 443. 

20 Ibid. 

21 Gencarelli, 10. 

22 Ibid., 11. 

23 Epstein and Pratto, 67. 

24 Parke Puterbaugh, "The Top 25 Albums of the 70s," Rolling Stone (September 20, 
1990), insert. 

25 Considine, 104. 

26 Ibid. 

27 Ibid., 103. 

28 "Metal Fatigue," Radio and Records (January 22, 1990). 

29 Denisoff, Gold, 443. 

30 Ibid. 

31 Irv Lichtman, "'87 Unit Sales Best in Decade," Billboard, (April 30, 1988), 1, 76. 

32 Paul Grein, "Gold, Platinum in Downturn," Billboard (July 11, 1987), 1, 77. 

33 Bessman, 39. 

34 Paul Grein, "Nov. Good Month for Metal, Debuts," Billboard {December 10, 1988), 

35 "AOR Albums," Radio and Records (January 5, 1990), 40. 

36 See for example: John P. Robinson and Paul Hirsch, "Teenage Response to Rock 
and Roll Proteste Songs," and R. Serge Denisoff and Mark Levine, "Brainwashing or 
Background Noise: The Popular Protest Song," both in The Sounds of Social Change: 
Studies in Popular Culture (eds.) R. Serge Denisoff and R. Peterson (Chicago: Rand 
McNally, 1972); Jill Rosenbaum and Lorraine Prinsky, "Leer-ics' or Lyrics, Teenage 


Impressions of Rock 'n Roll," Youth & Society 18 (June, 1987), 384-397; Tim Schlattmann, 
"Traditional, Non-Traditional, Emotionally/Behaviorally Disturbed Students and Popu- 
lar Musical Lyrics," Popular Music and Society 13 (Spring, 1989), 23-35; Charles Atkin, 
Survey of Undergraduates' Uses and Attitudes Toward Popular Music (Lansing: Michigan 
State University, 1973). 

37 Verden, Dunleavy, and Powers, 81. 

38 Denisoff, Gold, 442. 

39 DeCurtis,62. 

40 Epstein and Pratto, 71. 

41 Schlattmann, 26. 

42 Ernest A. Hakanen and Alan Wells, "Adolescent Music Marginals: Who Likes 
Metal, Jazz, Country, and Classical," Popular Music and Society (Winter, 1990), 57-66. 

43 See for example: Simon Frith, Sound Effects: Youth, Leisure, and the Politics of Rock 
and Roll (New York: Pantheon, 1981);James Lull (ed.), Popular Music and Communication 
(Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications, 1987); James S. Leming, "Rock Music and the 
Socialization of Moral Values in Early Adolescence," Youth & Society (June, 1987), 363- 
383; Donna Rouner, "Rock Music Use as a Socializing Function," Popular Music and 
Society (Spring, 1990), 97-107. 

44 For detailed explanation, see James A. Anderson and Timothy P. Meyer, Mediated 
Communication: A Social Action Perspective. (Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications, 1988). 


Cultural Politics/The Politics 

of Culture: Using Foucault and 

Habermas to Locate Prospects 


Social Change 

J. Craig Hanks 

The recent history and present state of our world demands that we 
consider the nature and character of political change and its relationship 
to cultural production. What sorts of cultural productions present 
possibilities for human liberation and what sorts are useful for maintain- 
ing existing power relations? Is it correct, as some technological 
determinists suggest, that Utopia (or the revolution) is just around the 
corner? The suggestion being that if we can only wait the inexorable 
advance of technological innovation will lead us there. 1 Or, as some 
pessimists argue, is every seeming technological and cultural advance 
merely a tightening of what Max Weber identified as the iron cage of 

A brief litany of recent world events might include the dissolution of 
the Soviet Union, the elections of Islamic fundamentalists in Algeria, the 
Persian Gulf Wars, years of labour unrest in South Korean, civil wars in 
much of Central America, and the reunification of Germany. Or, an 
alternative list: a resurgent sense of African- American identity, the 
rising popularity of Rap, the struggle over multi-cultural education, the 
canon debate, and continuing efforts by the Left and the Right to ban 
"offensive" books, movies, etc. 

Many of these events seem to be driven by a desire for self-determi- 
nation and self-expression both cultural and political. Unless we wish to 
live in willful ignorance of ourselves, our world and the implications of 
these events, we must find ways to think about the direction and origins 
of cultural and political change. And, unless we wish to be passively 
swept along by these events, we need to have more than a descriptive 
account of what is going on. 

Social theory attempts to provide an account of some social or cultural 
phenomenon — an explanation of why something is the way it is. If the 
account is more than just descriptive, that is, if the theory is what we 
might call critical social theory, then a stand is taken on the desirability 
of the situation described. Critical social theory not only aids our 
understanding of our situation, but it does so with attention to the 
possibilities that things might be otherwise. Critical social theory must 
aim at making things better. In a 1984 interview Jurgen Habermas 
explains his conception of a critical social theory, 

I can not imagine any seriously critical social theory without 
an internal link to something like an emancipatory interest. 


That is such a big name! But what I mean is an attitude which 
is formed in the experience of suffering from something man- 
made, which can be abolished and should be abolished. 2 

During the course of his intellectual production Habermas has moved 
from a version of ideology critique to a criticism of social reification. Or, 
from an attempt to provide a grounding of a critical social theory in 
"quasi-transcendental" structures of human interests 3 to an account of 
the colonization of a linguistically based lifeworld by an instrumentally 
oriented social system through the media of power and money. In 
naming this move Habermas is paralleling moves in Anglo-American 
and French philosophy from the paradigm of consciousness to the 
paradigm of language. 

A primary motivation for this move is the growing critique of the 
philosophy of consciousness with its origin in the works of Freud, 
Heidegger and Neitzsche. The critique of the philosophy of conscious- 
ness is, in part, a rejection of the project of the Enlightenment. Accord- 
ing to the critics the emphasis on abstract rationality and individual 
autonomy which characterizes Enlightenment thought, is inextricably 
entwined with modern forms of domination. 4 On this account of our 
culture, whatever liberatory spaces are opened up by the use of reason or 
the construction of new technologies are bound to be coopted or 
appropriated by forces which do not aim at human freedom. 

Habermas' goal, especially in The Theory of Communicative Action 
(1984 &1987), is to reconstruct the Enlightenment project. Toward that 
end, Habermas offers us a two level theory of society utilizing both 
lifeworld and social system perspectives and develops a new critical social 
theory which describes and explains the pathologies of modern society 
while still retaining the emancipatory content of certain Enlightenment 
ideals. About the lifeworld Habermas says, 

Members of a collective normally share a life-world. In 
communication, but also in the process of cognition, this only 
exists in the distinctive, pre-reflexive form of background 
assumptions, background receptives, or background rela- 
tions. The lifeworld is that remarkable thing which dissolves 
and disappears before our eyes as soon as we try to take it up 
piece by piece. 5 


On Habermas' account the lifeworld is the unthematized background 
of meanings against which particular events occur. Habermas integrates 
three different existing approaches into his account of the lifeworld: i) the 
phenomenological with its emphasis on the production and reproduc- 
tion of cultural knowledge, ii) the social systems approach with its focus 
on the role of institutions and social integration, and iii) symbolic 
interactionism with its emphasis on the role of socialization and the 
lifeworld as a ground for the formation of personality, for individual 
growth and action. By combining these three Habermas arrives at a 
description of the lifeworld as a preexisting stock of knowledge handed 
down in culture and language. Under conditions of modernity the 
lifeworld becomes rationalized. That is, the lifeworld possesses linguistic 
structures that allow the differentiation of objective, social and subjective 
domains of reference. 6 

Every action includes a complex set of objective facts, social norms, 
and personal experiences. Depending upon the situation some of these 
conditions will emerge from and some will fade into the lifeworld. These 
actions/events are unified into a life history through narratives, through 
communicative action. 7 

Habermas identifies three dimensions of communicative rationality, 
not surprisingly they correspond to the three domains/viewpoints with 
in the lifeworld. They are: first, the knowing subject and its relation to 
the world of events; second, the acting practical subject in its relation to 
a social world; third, the suffering passionate subject in its relation to its 
own and others subjectivity. 8 It is through these communicatively 
structured relations that cultural reproduction, the coordination of social 
interaction, and socialization take place. 9 

Unlike many of his predecessors (Georg Lukacs and Herbert Marcuse, 
for example), Habermas argues that the rationalization of the lifeworld, 
its separation into different spheres of knowledge and action, is a positive 
result of modernity. The rationalized lifeworld allows the structural 
differentiation of i) culture from society — this frees normative institu- 
tions (such as the courts) from metaphysical or religious world views (at 
least in theory); and ii) personality from culture — this frees individuals 
to revise traditions, to participate freely in interpersonal relationships, 
and to engage in self-conscious self-realization; and iii) form from 
content — this includes freeing formal procedures of justice from con- 
crete action contexts, and cognitive structures from particular life histo- 


ries. The rationalized lifeworld also requires greater reflexivity in 
decision making. One result of these trends is that specialized disciplines 
emerge, democratic institutions replace authoritarian institutions, and 
education "deparochializes." 10 

Habermas draws on the work of Jean Piaget and Lawrence Kohlberg 
in order to argue that linguistic evolution and moral-cognitive develop- 
ment parallel social evolution and the rationalization of the lifeworld. At 
the 'highest' level of moral cognitive development (the postconventional 
stage), people can evaluate norms from the standpoint of the generalized 
other (similar to the perspective of one employing the Kantian Categori- 
cal Imperative). Communication at this level requires the ability to 
debate, propose and reject value claims from a universal perspective. 11 

This process leads to the possibility of critical learning and discourse 
when knowledge claims, normative claims and descriptions of subjective 
experience can be distinguished from each other in everyday conversa- 
tion. Finally, expert discourses (politics, science, medicine, law philoso- 
phy, ethics, art, theology, and so forth) split off from everyday speech. 12 
The process of rationalization constructs persons who are increasingly 
autonomous with respect to culture, history and tradition. Individuals 
who demand a greater say in determining the course of their lives. As we 
shall find, when systemic logics invade the lifeworld, people organize 
resistance movements. 

From the viewpoint internal to the lifeworld, "society is represented 
as a network of communicatively mediated cooperation. . . . The 
lifeworld that members construct from common cultural traditions is 
coextensive with society." 13 However, such a viewpoint is a mistake. It 
is a mistake not in that it is false, but because it is only partial. If society 
is equated with lifeworld, then the source of social pathologies and crises 
remain enigmatic. Furthermore, such an equation requires the accep- 
tance of "three fictions": i) that culture and ordinary language is transpar- 
ent, ii) that communicative action is characterized by reciprocity and the 
participants "have to assume that they could, in principle, arrive at an 
understanding about anything and everything," 14 and iii)that individuals 
are fully conscious of their motives. 

According to Habermas these fictions are an account of, 

the way things look to the members of the sociocultural 
lifeworld themselves. In fact, however, their goal directed 
actions are coordinated not only through processes of reach- 


ing understanding, but also through functional interconnec- 
tions that are not intended by them, and are usually not even 
perceived within the horizon of everyday practice. 15 

Habermas is claiming that there are forces external to the lifeworld 
which are the sources of distortion in the communicative action of the 
lifeworld, sources of social pathologies. These social pathologies include 
such symptoms of modern life as anomie, neurosis, alienation, the loss of 
meaning, security and identity provided by being firmly situated in a 
culture. To understand the sources of these pathologies we must 
examine the systems of i) economic organization and ii) political and 
bureaucratic action. 

From the systems perspective, society is a self-regulating system. In 
this system actions are coordinated through the imperatives of means/ 
ends rationality. That is, actions are chosen because of the ways in which 
their consequences will fit with the consequences of other actions already 
chosen. From this perspective society is understood in terms of the 
functional relations of its systems and subsystems as understood from the 
perspective of an external observer. 

Of course, neither the system nor the lifeworld perspective is merely 
a perspective. Each viewpoint corresponds to something about society. 
And, though the lifeworld perspective has a certain priority because it is 
in principle possible that all functions of actions be expressed in the 
lifeworld structures of communicative action, the importance of the 
systems approach has been increasing with the increasing complexity of 
society. 16 

Following Talcott Parsons, Habermas argues that the system and 
lifeworld are interrelated and looped together in a feedback process. In 
fact the functions of systemic integration attended to by the system have 
their origin in the social integration of the lifeworld. The increased 
rationalization of the lifeworld and the increasing requirements made by 
the material reproduction of modern society means that the activities of 
individuals must be increasingly coordinated. In the institutionalization 
of this coordination a "decoupling of system and lifeworld" occurs. 17 

As the rationalization of the lifeworld progresses in the transition 
from traditional to modern societies, the greater the chance that 
disagreements will occur. In traditional societies institutions linked to 
social integration — such as kinship systems, ritual exchange, and so on — 


served to coordinate power and exchange relations. With the fading of 
consensus about the meaning of many situations came increasing strain 
on the social structure. 18 To deal with this pressure certain mechanisms 
of systemic organization were decoupled from the demands of commu- 
nicative action. 19 

Through a process which Habermas, borrowing from Parsons, calls 
"value generalization," 20 areas of life are transferred from the lifeworld 
to the system. As society becomes more complex, positions of power are 
detached from kinship systems and annexed to political office. In these 
increasingly politically stratified societies the justification of power 
becomes necessary. As we shall examine in what follows, power cannot 
be legitimated in terms of money. After all, the market is supposedly a 
place of 'free' and 'equal' exchange where everyone makes what s/he can 
of, and for, him or himself, being all one can be on the basis of hard work 
and talent. In such a place, power should be irrelevant. Thus state 
functions, such as judicial and legislative, become formally organized, 
codified in a system of formal law. One aspect of these legal arrange- 
ments is their guarantee of "free contracts" for private gain. This elevates 
the market to the status of an autonomous self-regulating system. 21 

In Legitimation Crisis (1975), Habermas argues that one of the effects 
of situating the market as an autonomous sphere within society is to 
contain class conflict by concealing class exploitation. The transition to 
bourgeois civil law does maintain law and order, and provide for 
education, transportation and communication. This transition also 
leaves the market largely untouched, largely free from regulation. The 
market then relieves the political order of the need for legitimation 
because the conditions of freedom are now found in the market where the 
exchange of 'equivalents' and the 'voluntary' nature of wage relations hide 
exploitation. 22 

Habermas revises this theory in The Theory of Communicative Action 
and introduces the notion of the steering medium. Just as money is the 
steering medium by which market decisions are coordinated, so to are 
administrative/political systems integrated through the "non-normative 
steering of subjectively uncoordinated decisions." 23 Habermas explains 
social distortions by reference to the process whereby the reproduction 
of everyday life becomes directed by considerations of money and power 
and not through the communicative interactions of people. He calls this 


process the colonization of the lifeworld, when the efficient pursuit of 
goals which we never debated and choice becomes the point of our lives. 

Money functions as a steering medium through the familiar process 
of comidification. Money converts concrete human labor into an 
abstract commodity. This process takes place in the exchange relations 
of the marketplace. Habermas observes that the exchange relation does 
not obviously disadvantage any participants, because no party willingly 
enters into an exchange relation not in here or his own interest. For this 
reason, the market appears to be an autonomous sphere of non-norma- 
tive activity. 

Power is the medium whereby individual decisions are coordinated 
toward "the realization of collective goals." It is through the medium of 
power that the actions of administrative bureaucratic structures come to 
appear as the nature like relations which defined Weber's iron cage. But, 
Habermas claims, unlike exchange relations, power relations are not 
obviously in the interest of all parties. Thus, the power relation "needs 
to be legitimated and therefore requires a more demanding normative 
anchoring than does money." 24 

Habermas is arguing that although power functions as a steering 
medium, just as money does, it still requires justification in communica- 
tive terms. This is so because of the structure of power relations — 
powerholders have an advantage over subordinates. Habermas makes 
this claim based, in part, upon Nilkas Luhman's account in The Differ- 
entiation of Society (1982). Luhman argues that power is the medium by 
which modern societies reduce the complexity of decision making. 
Decisions made by powerholders become the unquestioned basis of 
decisions by subordinates. 25 

In this account of the structure of power relations in modern society, 
Habermas may be correct. Yet, it seems quite possible that power has 
disappeared into the fabric of the system, and the system-lifeworld 
interaction, just as money has. If this has happened, then power will need 
no more justification than does money because it (power) will not longer 
appear as such. In fact, we need only remember the new ideology of 
business (or government) that "we're all in this together," or the creation 
of an "us" striding forth to police the world as in many recent military 
adventures in order to find reason to doubt that his analysis is complete. 
As evidence of this we find workers' quality circles, or public hearings and 
committees. All of these devices function to remove political consider- 


ations and power relations from the administrative decision process by 
supposedly including all interested parties in the process. The effect is 
to remove, or to appear to have removed, hierarchy from the decision 
making process. Habermas might have missed this because in his 
account of power he assumes that power is centralized in origin and uni- 
directional in distribution. Habermas' account of power might benefit 
from an encounter with the work of Foucault who offers a non- 
normative analysis of power as capillary, decentralized, and self-policing. 
Foucault, like Habermas, claims that modern power as a medium of 
control and domination had its origins in local, lifeworld concerns. In the 
late 18th century a variety of "microtechniques" were developed in 
schools, hospitals and prisons far from the traditional centers of power. 
Only later would these techniques be utilized in global strategies of 
domination. 26 In a 1977 interview, Foucault said, 

If you ask me, "Does this new technology of power take its 
historical origin from an identifiable individual or group of 
individuals who decide to implement it so as to further their 
own interests or facilitate their utilization of the social body?" 
then I would say "No". These tactics were invented and 
organized from the starting points of local conditions and 
particular needs. 27 

Foucault characterizes modern power as "disciplinary power" in part 
because of its origins in disciplinary institutions which first faced the 
problems of organizing, managing, watching and controlling large 
numbers of persons. Later these problems would become central 
problems for modern governments and they would take up the practices 
developed at the fringes of the old society. Previously power had its 
location in the person of the sovereign. By contrast, modern power "has 
its principle not so much in a person as in a certain concerted distribution 
of bodies, surfaces, lights, gazes; in an arrangement whose internal 
mechanisms produce the relation in which the individuals are caught 
up. l * 

One of the disciplinary practices which Foucault discusses is "the 
gaze." The gaze allows administrators to manage their institutions by 
organizing the populations so that they could be watched, known, and 


controlled. This watching took place on two levels and required 
constructing two new objects of knowledge — the social group and the 

In The Birth of the Clinic (1975), Foucault recounts the origin of the 
"medical gaze." This gaze was made possible by the intersection of i) the 
construction of the individual as a "case" and the new types of detailed 
observation made possible by the bedside observation in modern hospi- 
tals; with ii) the arrangements and segregation of patients in accord with 
the types of diseases (witness many proposals for dealing with PWAIDS) 
and systems of monitoring health at the state level which though semi- 
autonomous (AMA) are centralized authorities "for the recording and 
assessment of all medical activity." 29 

Twelve years later when Discipline and Punish (1979) first appears in 
France we find Foucault once again taking up "the gaze." In this text his 
central example of the creation of a modern "economy of power" is 
Betham's Panopticon. The Panopticon is a model for prison design 
consisting of rings of backlit cells surrounding a central elevated watch- 
tower. This design allows a single guard to oversee many inmates and 
provides a single objective view of the members of prison society and their 
relations. Because the cells are backlit, the inmates can not tell when they 
are being observed, how many observers there are, nor even if they are 
ever being watched. The effect is to create self-policing prisoners. 
Foucault observes, 

The efficiency of power, its constraining force have, in a sense, 
passed over to the other side — to the side of its surface of 
application. He who is subjected to a field of visibility, and 
who knows, it assumes responsibility for the constraints of 
power; he makes them play spontaneously upon himself; he 
inscribes in himself the power relation in which he simulta- 
neously plays both roles; he becomes the principle of his own 
subjection. 30 

What happens is that the prisoners internalize the gaze and police 
their own behavior. Throughout modern institutions, in hospitals, 
prisons, factories, schools, this type of observation objectifies its targets 
and invades their lives. 


With the rise of modern societies comes the "necessity to ensure the 
circulation of effects of power through progressively finer channels, 
gaining access to individuals themselves, to their bodies, their gestures 
and all their daily actions." 31 Disciplinary power is always already 
everywhere; it is in us, in our desires, our habits, our bodies. Modern 
power is, in Foucault's words, capillary. Furthermore, it is "self- 
amplifying," it aims not at suppression but at the reconstruction of its 

My intention is to evaluate the theories of Habermas and Foucault by 
determining how well they fulfill the demands of a critical social theory. 
Do these accounts distinguish more and less desirable forms of social 
practice? Do they identify forms of social domination? Do they identify 
the most likely and productive forms of social action? In order to answer 
these questions I must briefly turn to the political implications of these 

Both Habermas and Foucault agree that just as modern power has its 
origin in local necessities, so too must resistance. Habermas identifies 
what he calls "new social movements" (environmentalism, religious 
fundamentalism, feminism. . . .) and Foucault valorizes "micro politics." 

Habermas believes that the separation of system and lifeworld, and the 
rationalization of the lifeworld are ambivalent developments of modern 
societies. There have been significant gains in freedom, and social 
programs are a significant advance in the humaneness of our society. Yet, 
the mechanisms by which these gains are realized threatens the increased 
freedom. The increased intervention of public welfare and legal systems 
into everyday life has pathological results. Such 'reforms' require that 
symbolic reproduction functions be subordinated to system integration 
mechanisms, economic and administrative imperatives increasingly have 
priority over the values and goals of the lifeworld. These interventions 
and disruptions of the communicatively organized symbolic reproduc- 
tion of everyday life threaten personal and collective identities and social 
crises develop. 32 

In response to this "colonization of the lifeworld," "new social move- 
ments" emerge. These movements challenge the crises in symbolic 
reproduction. For example: they challenge the instrumentalization of 
education, the commercialization of relationships and life-styles, bu- 
reaucratization and legalization of services, and the routinization of 


politics. 33 Some of these new social movements, such as religious 
fundamentalism are reactionary in their demand for an earlier stage of 
social integration. Some movements, such as the ecology movement, are 
better because they struggle to resist the demands of the system and 
create new broadly democratic mechanisms of control over the system 
(We have, of course, seen much of the radical economic and political 
import of the environmental movement dissipate in an attempt to 
convince people that environmentalism requires no changes in daily life 
and no structural challenges to the system.) 

Habermas' account of the politics of the new social movements is 
based, in part, on his account of power. For this reason we find that the 
sites for struggle occur at the interstices of system and lifeworld, that 
collectivities within the lifeworld resist the invasion of power into the 
symbolic reproduction of everyday life. 

If Foucault is correct, if power is capillary in character, then power 
does not flow uni-directionally from the system to the lifeworld. Power 
is, therefore, as present in aspects of daily life (cooking, choosing which 
clothes to wear, dating) as it is in system of bureaucratic/administrative 
organization. This means that Habermas is too quick to locate the 
system/lifeworld intersection as the site for struggle and resistance. 
Foucault's account means that a liberatory politics will include (begin 
with?) a politics of everyday life, a politics of culture. This is, of course, 
an argument made by many feminists, radical environmentalists, and 
other members of "new social movements." 

If Foucault is correct, then power is decentered and continuous. In 
fact, power is itself not a unitary notion, power is multiple and encom- 
passes such diverse phenomena as criteria for knowledge claims and the 
secret and coercive extraction of knowledge from and about persons. 

"Power is everywhere" argues Foucault. 34 One claim that follows from 
this is that we are always already engaged in struggles for the structure 
and meaning of our daily life. The politics that follows from this claim 
is a politics structured around single issues and local demands (right to 
life, or neighborhood politics). These struggles are "micro-politics." 

Some forms of micro-political struggle have little, if any, formal 
organization. One example is the use of contemporary technologies to 
construct new cultural products. As far back as 1936 Walter Benjamin 
argued that technological innovation is changing the nature of art and 


aesthetic experience. In "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical 
Reproduction," Benjamin argues that, 

[t]he instant the criterion of authenticity ceases to be appli- 
cable to artistic production, the total function of art is re- 
versed. Instead of being based on ritual, it begins to be based 
on another practice — politics 35 

Traditionally each work of art was unique. The art work had its own 
existence in time and space as well as its own history. Meeting these 
conditions, as understood for a specific object, conferred upon that object 
"authenticity." The (use) value of the authentic work stems from the 
ritual function it serves. Benjamin points out that this ritualistic origin 
of artistic value still exists in the secular "cult of beauty." 36 Benjamin has 
a name for this surrounding value, which is based in ritual and expressed 
in the valorization of authenticity and uniqueness. This he calls the 
"aura". It is the death of the aura that distinguishes art in the age of 
mechanical reproduction. 

In principle a work of art has always been reproducible. Man 
made artifacts could always be imitated by man Mechani- 
cal reproduction of a work of art, however, represents some- 
thing new. 37 

For Benjamin, the preeminent example of art in the age of mechanical 
reproduction was film. Film offers the opportunity for "simultaneous 
collective experience." Film is art with no aura, it is readily accessible to 
all and offers the possibility that any person can be both producer and 
consumer of cultural products. 

In the age of mechanical reproduction (and electronic reproduction) 
the image of a work of art is no longer unique. John Berger points out 
that this is because the image can be reproduced and its meaning changed 
according to its context. In theory, anyone can now give a work of art a 
new meaning and thereby resist the political and cultural colonization of 
the lifeworld. 

But for the most part, this democratization of the image has not come 
to pass. Berger argues that, 


Very few people are aware of what has happened because the 
means of reproduction are used nearly all the time to promote 
the illusion that nothing has changed except that the masses, 
thanks to reproduction, can now begin to appreciate art as the 
cultured minority once did. 38 

Benjamin was right. Reproduction of art objects has destroyed the 
aura of the art of the past. What matters now is who controls the means 
of reproduction and toward what end. For the present, control is in the 
hands of multinational capital. Its technique is to use publicity (e.g., 
children's commercials, advertising) to create spectator-buyers. 

The purpose of publicity is to make the spectator marginally 
dissatisfied with his present way of life. Not with the way of 
life of society, but with his own within it. It suggests that if 
he buys what it is offering, his life will become better .... 
.Publicity turns consumption into a substitute for democ- 

Berger points out that action for structural change seldom occurs. All 
too often the spectator lapses "into recurrent day-dreams." The art of the 
past is dead. Publicity and consumption now play the traditional sacred 
role played by art. They have taken on a pseudo-aura, a pseudo 
authenticity. The radical transformation some have foreseen as a natural 
consequence of the new technologies has failed to come about. In order 
to understand why, we must ask the political question — the question of 
power — of who would own and control the means of communicating 
and disseminating images and ideas. As "the entire art of the past has . 
. .become a political issue," 40 so has the art of the present. 

Today we can rewrite Benjamin's argument and apply it to popular 
music. It isn't at all clear what it means to say that a performance is "live." 
Nor is it clear why and how we valorize something called "authentic" 
performance. Whether it is rap or metal or country, Madonna perform- 
ing "Express Yourself or Whitney Houston performing "The Star 
Spangled Banner" or Public Enemy performing "Fight the Power" or 
Milli Vanilli performing anything, editing, overdubbing, effects, back- 
tracking, and so on have all been used to construct new products, new 
music. As Reebee Garofalo notes, 


It isn't that this music is somehow less "authentic" than other 
musics, its that our feelings about authenticity — like our 
copyright laws and our theories of culture — have not kept 
pace with technological advances. 41 

As DAT, writable CDs, and digital effects technologies become 
increasingly available, the line between producer and consumer of 
popular music will continue to break down. 

If we look about we can find that this is already happening. Many of 
us make our own recordings from bits of different discs, found sounds, 
radio, etc. In many countries very few of the copies of recordings of 
Western Music on the market are "legitimate" 42 . As Constance Penley 
and Andrew Ross point out in their introduction to Technoculture (1991), 

In many countries attempts to enforce Western ideas about 
copyright and private intellectual property are seen as acts of 
cultural imperialism or, as postcolonial impertinence. The 
arrival of technologies, then, is accompanied, as it were, by 
ideological instructions for their "proper" use that are often in 
direct contradiction to the obvious practical uses of the 
technologies. In most cases, the implied instructions, under- 
stood as deferring to Western notions of copyright, go un- 
heeded. 43 

In this country Dave Marsh's monthly publication Rock and Roll 
Confidential serves as a clearing house for home taping tips and an 
organizing tool for resistance to music censorship efforts around the 
United States. It is only one of many such publications, many of which 
are published through the use of an employer's computers, photocopy 
machines and printers. 

The uses of recording (and printing) technologies in this manner are 
acts of everyday rebellion, acts of decolonization. However, so long as the 
acts, and the actors, remain disconnected and reactive, they will never 
challenge fundamental structures and existing power relations. The trick 
is to avoid dependency on technological innovation driven by "free" 
market imperatives and to construct political and technological 


One of the problems with Foucault's account of power and resistance 
is the claim that we are always already engaged in power relations which 
cannot, in the final instance, be transformed. He claims, 

There aren't immediately given subjects of the struggle. . . . 
Who fights against whom? We all fight each other. And 
there is always within each of us something that fights 
something else. 44 

If he is correct, then it is not clear what form will be taken by any 
effective cultural or political struggle. That is, any struggle not always 
already doomed to fail. Thus, we are left with a politics characterized bv 
Nancy Fraser as a politics "of multiple local resistances carried out in the 
name of no articulable positive ideal." 45 Such a politics doesn't, in spite 
of Foucault's claims to the contrary, 46 doesn't offer much hope for 
systemic change. 

This is the crucial difference between Habermas' account of power 
and Foucault's account. For Foucault power is non-normative and 
everywhere, so how is it possible to resist? But, as Habermas notes, the 
questions raised by Foucault's account go even deeper: 

If it is just a matter of mobilizing counterpower, of strategic 
battles and wily confrontations, why should we muster any 
resistance at all against this all-pervasive power circulating in 
the bloodstream of the body of modern society, instead of just 
adopting ourselves to it? . . . why fight at all? 47 

The primary problem of politics and culture in the last days of the 20th 
century is the problem of coalitions. At some level both Habermas' 
account of new social movements and Foucault's account of micropolitics 
are accurate accounts of the actually existing politics, especially in what 
we might call the core countries of late, or postmodern, capitalism. 48 

If the colonization of the lifeworld is a systematic matter, and neither 
Habermas nor Foucault give us any reason to believe otherwise, then 
systemic changes are necessary. And though his account neither takes 
account of the fact that struggle is always underway, nor of the necessitv 
of struggles within the lifeworld; Habermas does talk about the possibil- 


ity of change at the level of the social whole. That is, Habermas continues 
to think the totality. This is necessary because, 

We cannot but live in a total world. The world constitutes a 
totality — inevitable — in the background of our everyday ac- 
tivities. Now the problem is whether one can employ a 
theoretical language to analyze a concrete lifeworld, as a 
particular totality, or whether one refrains from that claim and 
restricts oneself to an analysis of the presumably universal 
infrastructure which all lifeworlds share with each other. It is 
this infrastructure that I'm interested in. 49 

Locating a theory of power within an account of a social totality is 
important because such talk opens the possibility for parties in different 
social locations to understand what they have in common, why they 
should build coalitions to accomplish structural systemic change, and in 
whose name the struggle should take place — our own. 



1 One example of this sort of naive optimism about the beneficial affects of 
technological innovation is the work ofMarshall McLuhan. See Craig Hanks, "Baudrillard 
and McLuhan: The Media as Agents of Social Change," in Left Without Ground: Radical 
Possibilities of Postmodernity, ed. Bill Martin and George Trey [Washington, D.C.: 
Maisonneuve Press, forthcoming]. 

2 Jurgen Habermas, Autonomy and Solidarity, [London: Verson, 1986], p. 198. 

3 See Jurgen Habermas, Knowledge and Human Interests, [Boston: Beacon Press, 1971]. 

4 See max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno, Dialectic of Enlightenment, [New York: 
Continuum, 1987]. On the general crisis of any grand explanatory and nustificatory 
narratives, including the narrative of reason, see Jean-Francois Lyotard, The Postmodern 
Condition: A Report on Knowledge, [Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984]. 
For a clear concise account of the Enlightenment project see Immanuel Kant, "What is 
Enlightenment," in Kant: Selection, ed. Lewis White Beck, [New York: Macmillan 
Publishing, 1988]. 

5 Habermas, A&S, p. 109. 

6 Jurgen Habermas, The Theory of Communicative Action, Vol., 2 [Boston: Beacon 
Press, 1987], pp. 119-140. For the sources of the Habermasian account of the lifeworld 
see: i) for the phenomenological, Edmund Husserl, Logische Untersuchungen, 2 vols. 
[Tubingen: J.C. Mohr, 1980], ii) for social systems account, Talcott Parsons, The Social 
System, [New York: Free Press, 1951], and Action Theory and the Human Condition, [New 
York: Free Press, 1978], and Emile Durkheim, The Division of Labor in Society, [New 
York: Free Press, 1933], and iii) for symbolic interactionism see George Herbert Mead, 
On Social Psychology, ed. Anselm Strauss, [Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 

7 Habermas, TCA, Vol. 2, pp. 143-145. 

8 Habermas, A&S, pp. 108-109. 

9 Habermas, TCA, Vol. 2, pp. 143-145. 

10 TCA, Vol. 2, pp. 145-148. See also Jurgen Habermas, The Theory of Communicative 
Action, Vol. 1, [Boston: Beacon Press, 1984], pp. 157-158. 

11 Habermas, TCA, Vol. 2. pp. 27-42. Many objections have been raised to Kohlberg's 
account of moral-cognitive development. Along with these objections have come 
criticisms of Habermas' use of Kohlberg's theory. See Carol Gilligan, In a Different Voice, 
[Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1982]. Also Seyla Benhabib, "The Gener- 
alized and the Concrete Other: The Kohlberg-Gilligan Controversy and Feminist 
Theory," in Feminism and Critique: On the Politics of Gender, ed. Sevla Benhabib and 
Drucilla Cornell, [Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987]. 

12 Habermas, TCA, vol, 2, pp. 77-118. 

13 Habermas, TCA, Vol. 2, pp. 148-149. 


14 Habermas, TCA, Vol. 2, p. 150. 

15 Habermas, TCA, Vol. 2, p. 150. 

16 Habermas, TCA, Vol. 2, p. 172-178. 

17 Habermas, TCA, Vol. 2, p. 153. 

18 This process was traced in great detail by Jurgen Habermas in Legitimation Crisis, 
[Boston: Beacon Press, 1975]. 

19 Habermas, TCA, Vol. 2, p. 153-165. 

20 Habermas, TCA, Vol. 2, p. 179. 

21 Habermas, TCA, Vol. 2, pp. 168-173. 

22 Habermas, LC, pp. 19-23. 

23 Habermas, TG4, Vol. 2, p. 186. 

24 Habermas, TCA, Vol. 2, p. 271. 

25 Niklas Luhman, The Differentiation of Society, [New York, 1982], pp. 150-175. 

26 Michel Foucault, Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings 1972- 
1977, ed. Colin Gordon, [New York: Panteon Books, 1980] pp. 38-39, 104-105. 

27 Foucault, P/K, p. 159. 

28 Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, [New York: Vintage 
Books, 1979], p. 202. 

29 Michel Foucault, The Birth of the Clinic: An Archeology of Medical Perception, [New 
York: Vintage Books, 1975], p. 28. 

30 Foucault, D&P, pp. 202-203. 

31 Foucault, P/K, pp. 152-153. 

32 Habermas, TCA, pp. 285-299. 

33 Habermas, TCA, Vol. 2, pp. 299-331. 

34 Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality, Vol 1, [New York: Vintage Books, 1980], 
p. 93. 

35 Walter Benjamin, "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction," in 
Illuminations, (Schocken Books, 1969), p. 222. 

36 Benjamin, "The Work of Art," p. 224. 

37 Benjamin, "The Work of Art," p. 223. 

38 Benjamin, "The Work of Art," p. 218. 

39 John Berger, Ways of Seeing, (BBC and Penguin Books, 1972), pp. 32-33. 

40 Berger, WOS, pp. 142 & 149. 

41 Berger, WOS, p. 33. 


42 Reebee Garofalo, "Understanding Mega-Events: IfWe Are the World, Then How 
Do WE Change It?" in Technoculture, ed. Constance Penley and Andrew Ross, [Minne- 
apolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1991]. 

43 John Chesterman and Andy Lipman, The Electronic Pirates, [London: Routledge, 
1988], p. 43. 

44 Constance Penley and Andrew Ross, "Introduction" in Technoculture, p. x. 

45 Foucault, P/K, p. 208. 

46 Nancy Fraser, Unruly Practices: Power Discourse and Gender in Contemporary Social 
Theory, [Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1989], p. 59. 

47 Foucault, HOS, p. 96. 

48 Jurgen Habermas, The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity, [Cambridge, MA: MIT 
Press, 1987], pp. 283-284. 

49 Habermas,y«5fS,p.211. 


About the Contributors 

Marjorie R. Abel is currently on the faculty of the University Without 
Walls, University of Massachusetts. She received her Ph.D. in Anthro- 
pology from the University of Massachusetts in 1987 and has previously 
written on the employment of women previous to 1940. 

Kenneth J. Bindas is an Assistant Professor of American History at 
West Georgia College where he teaches courses in Social and Cultural 
history. He has published articles on Bob Nolan and the Sons of the 
Pioneers, Rock Music and the Vietnam War, and Punk Rock and 
American Society. He is also the editor and contributor to Americas 
Musical Pulse: Popular Music in 20th Century American Society. 

Robert Groves is in the Division of Fine Arts at North Dakota State 
University and is currently expanding on his work on Tin Pan Alley 

J. Craig Hanks received his Ph.D. from Duke University. He has 
taught courses in social and political philosophy, ethics, philosophy of 
technology, and philosophical and political issues in popular culture and 
has a forthcoming publication on postmodernism, Habermas, feminism, 
and culture. He is currently as assistant professor of philosophy at the 
University of Alabama in Huntsville. 

J. Allen Michie is a Ph.D. candidate in the English Department at 
Emory University. He has degrees from the University of North 
Carolina and Trinity College, Oxford. His primary research areas are the 
eighteenth-century British novel and sociological approaches to litera- 
ture, with an additional teaching interest in Jazz history. 

Edward Pessen is Distinguished Professor of History at Baruch 
College and the Graduate School and University Center, the City 
University of New York. He has written several hundred books and 
articles on a variety of topics, among them the 19th-century labor 
movement and its ideology, Jacksonian America, Alexis de Tocqueville, 
the distribution of wealth and power in American history, social struc- 


ture and social mobility, 1790-1990, American historical thought, the 
American presidents, the antebellum North and South compared, the 
U.S. Cold War policy, the 'golden age' of Tin Pan Alley, the Swing Era, 
and big league baseball and its strange hold on the imagination of the 
"deep thinkers." He has given lectures/concerts in Toronto, Stockholm, 
Leningrad, and many campuses in the U.S. on the great popular songs. 

Dennis D. Phillips is an Associate Professor of Broadcasting within 
the Department of Speech Communication at Colorado State Univer- 
sity. He received his Ph.D. in Radio-Television from Ohio University in 
Athens, Ohio. 



Irvine Sullivan Ingram Library